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British Airways tests "happiness blanket"

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July 5, 2014

The happiness blanket monitors brain activity and displays it on the fiber optic blanket

The happiness blanket monitors brain activity and displays it on the fiber optic blanket

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Last month, British Airways flew a group of volunteers on flight BA 189 Dreamliner from Heathrow to New York as part of an experiment to study how people react to the night-time flight across time zones. What made this particular flight unusual were the high-tech "happiness blankets" issued to the passengers. While the glowing blankets didn't actually make the passengers happy, they did measure how relaxed they were as part of a study of how to combat jet lag.

The happiness blanket sounds a bit twee, but there’s a serious purpose behind it. Jet lag is the bane of frequent fliers and has a surprisingly powerful impact on travelers as their internal clocks struggle to catch up to shifts in the day’s natural rhythms that aren’t found in nature. Part of the problem is being stuck in a metal and plastic cylinder that’s about as far from natural as possible, which poses difficulties for psychologists and others tasked with improving passenger conditions.

The study reminds us of how controlled an environment an airliner is. Every kind of mass transit from the taxi cab to the railway train works by its own rules, and an airliner is like a cross between a battery hen coop and a church where rituals are used to convey the very practical message of “sit down and relax.” Using the happiness blanket, British Airways is trying to tweak those rituals to make air travel more relaxing and better suited to adjusting to a new time zone.

Red indicates that the person is alert and least relaxed

The happiness blanket works by measuring and displaying a person’s mood. The glowing covering uses neurosensors in a headband to measure brain waves and fiber optics woven into the material to reveal the level of a passenger’s relaxation. Red means the minimum of relaxation, and blue indicates the maximum relaxation.

There’s as much marketing as science involved here, since there’s no need for the blankets to have a readout mechanism, but it is a nice way of illustrating to the public what’s going on. Using data gleaned from volunteer fliers, British Airways hopes to learn how to adjust the various factors in the cabin options and routines, so they’re as relaxing as possible. These include lighting, mealtimes, menus, seating positions, types of films shown, and general cabin routine.

According to British Airways, the key to these adjustments is to provide passengers with the best sleep possible on long flights, which is one reason why the airline has introduced lie-flat seating for business class and above. Better relaxation provides the brain with as few distractions as possible while traveling to different time zones, so it has a chance to adjust.

The study learned that food made the participants more relaxed

“Sleeping on a plane is a great opportunity to reset your body clock so you arrive at your destination after a long flight, feeling refreshed and rested," says Vincent Walsh, professor of human brain research at University College London.

British Airways recommends that to minimize jet lag travelers should eat lightly before boarding, but avoid heavy eating on the plane, as well as alcohol, caffeine, and work or playing games, and to keep hydrated during the flight. Shoes should be removed to improve circulation, the passenger should lie down or recline as much as possible, wear a sleep mask to keep as much light out as possible, and use ear plugs to keep out noise. The airline says that it also provides relaxation audio feed or special relaxation video programs.

“Using technology like the British Airways ‘happiness blanket’ is another way for us to investigate how our customers’ relaxation and sleep is affected by everything on board, from the amount of light in the cabin, when they eat, to what in-flight entertainment they watch and their position in the seat” says Frank van der Post, British Airways’ managing director, brands and customer experience.

The video below outlines the happiness blanket test.

Source: British Airways

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
9 Comments

It would be interesting to see more analysis of the results. I guess there would be a lot more red blankets in Economy.

Airlines should realise that profit depends on load factors - and with the majority of seats being in Economy, the secret lies in filling economy class seats - perhaps more than pampering a much smaller number of premium class passengers. - Even if they do pay double, volume is what matters.

So the airlines that make flying less painful for the majority of their customers [a more meaningful word than passengers] will be the ones that make profits.

Alien
5th July, 2014 @ 08:31 pm PDT

Plain experience may suggest leg room be adjustable according to the flight duration. Less than 2 hours...cram them in. More than 8 hours, give them plenty room to move and sleep. (Them is us).

What marketing hype! 'Happiness Blanket' is just too cuddly for words, but scientific research and concealed blue-tooth whatnots does make it barely palatable.

Threesixty
6th July, 2014 @ 02:16 am PDT

Stop packing people in like cattle, improve seat design and people would sleep quite nicely.

Roy Murray
7th July, 2014 @ 05:42 am PDT

"Blue" is HAPPY? Yeah,I've got the Blues.

Planes with no cockpit windshields and already so many drones in some places that they are getting their own control towers. The connection is inevitable but I already have enough Blues

over both issues separately... I'll take the dangers of flying in Alaska to the negative converging vectors of the modern metro-man.

"Technology" is dangerously over-rated....

after all, it's not magic,is it? Phones get smarter, people get dumber.

If electricity is seriously disrupted in one of several likely ways, people are LOST without it and what they have come to become so dependent on.

Also, food is not produced in the cities-

it is only PROCESSED there.

But soon, if you have your "Happy Blanket" on,

you will feel happy when you get the Blues! Do they also feed them that new "Soylent" stuff on these flights? It still amazes me that they make something called Soylent. I'm even more amazed that people but it... and eat it!

What is needed is to exercise logical management of food&water on this mostly ocean covered world

humans call "earth"... Covered in water yet it is undrinkable? Can't be used for irrigation? Why are we so behind on effective desalination and water purifying?

When the world's population doubles and the food&water resources are not enough, will we all get a "Happy Blanket"?

Is this germaine to the article? Absolutely.

This blanket is a perfect portrait of the nanny state-as delivered and rendered by the corporate world.

As for traveling boredom, if people cannot keep themselves occupied with all the gadgets they already have, more gadgets are just masking their fundamental restless unhappiness. I can still get on a jet and just enjoy the ride after 50 years of flying. Of course, it's even better in the cockpit with real windows!

Griffin
7th July, 2014 @ 09:03 am PDT

Yes, its a grand idea since there is nothing less comfortable than sitting next to a robust and self medicated "business person" who smells strongly of hard liquor and garlic while s/he takes up both armrests; elbows clearly in violation of sovereign air space and eventual snoring guaranteed not to allow those nearby to get to the "blue blanket" stage. Maybe the airline will sense the injustice and find better ways to make their passengers comfortable - all of them.

Mirmillion
7th July, 2014 @ 09:37 am PDT

Thirty five years ago I routinely flew on an 11 hour non-stop. As soon as take off (within a half hour) the lights went down and people began moving to a space where they could lay down. After a sleep period of about 9 hours the lights came back on and noise level rose. It was a great way to fly.

My main problem with today's flights are the lack of room to sleep. Even a few sleep cycles would be better than none.

I would love to see a "blanket study" for the TSA ordeal. I hate flying now and avoid it if possible. It's difficult to relax when you've just had your rights violated, "for your own good"?

Don Duncan
7th July, 2014 @ 11:00 am PDT

Why not just pump a bit of nitrous oxide into the cabin now and then?

nutcase
8th July, 2014 @ 12:45 am PDT

I'm with Griffin..doesn't anyone else see what's happening here?!!

Wolfhoundpax
8th July, 2014 @ 09:29 am PDT

".....wear a sleep mask to keep as much light out as possible, and use ear plugs to keep out noise."

Whether you should cover your eyes and keep out light or keep awake and expose yourself to light depends on the time zone to which you are travelling.

Rustgecko
9th July, 2014 @ 01:50 am PDT
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