If you own a mobile VR or AR headset, the laptop ban might not be as bad as you think.
The US and UK large electronics ban stops thousands of fliers from using their laptops or tablets every week. But the rules — which impact six Mideast countries for the UK and 10 for the US — don’t mean you can’t use augmented or virtual reality headsets to browse the web, play games or get work done.
Sean Ong, a mixed reality developer, demonstrated in May how the Microsoft HoloLens can serve as a desktop-like workaround on an affected US-bound Emirates flight from Dubai when paired with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.
Ong told VRScout in an email he faced minimal difficulty bringing his HoloLens through security and had no issues with the flight staff.
“Security at the gate made me open the HoloLens case and asked what the device was. They also asked if I knew what kind of battery was in it, and if it was rechargeable,” Ong said. “I told them that the device was a pair of ‘smart glasses’ for visualizing 3D objects. I put on the HoloLens, and as soon as they saw me wear it – they let me pass without any issues.”
He said the HoloLens “isn’t really designed to be used as a laptop replacement” but still remains superior to a mobile device for productivity.
“Trying to be productive on my phone is also a dreadful experience,” Ong said. “I was worried they’d make me check-in my HoloLens at the gate, but I needed to try. I was glad I did, as it allowed me to spend a few hours to catch up and reply to work e-mails and do some web-based research during the flight.”
But the Microsoft HoloLens’ current price point at $3,000 and status as a developer tool make the headset unwieldy for the average flier. Many passengers may find a better option with mobile VR headsets like the Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream View.
Samsung Internet lets you browse the internet and work inside powerful web-based apps like Gmail or social media. Australian airline Qantas has even started offering the Gear VR to its first class passengers.
The headset can also make for excellent offline entertainment. Matt Weinberger of Business Insider recommends the Gear VR for flights, writing:
“I learned that virtual reality has the potential to make flying a vastly more pleasant experience. … But the Samsung Gear VR is really the only way to fly: It’s powered by a Samsung phone (in my case, it was a Galaxy S6) slotted into the headset. That means it’s totally self-contained.”
When asked for their policy on AR and VR headsets, a US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokeswoman told VRScout in an email they “don’t have specific guidance” for headsets ranging from the HoloLens to the Gear VR. VR and AR headsets are also not listed on the TSA’s large electronic device ban fact sheet.
Acting TSA press secretary Lisa Farbstein told VRScout in a separate email the “TSA has no restrictions on the use of reality headsets in aircraft,” adding there was a brief period in the summer where large electronic devices like VR headsets were prohibited.
“At one point earlier this summer there were 10 points of last departure airports (mainly airports in the Middle East) that had a restriction on bringing any electronics larger than a cell phone onto a plane that was departing for the U.S,” Farbstein said. “Those restrictions have been lifted because the security measures for screening electronics at those airports was enhanced.”
This doesn’t mean new regulations affecting large electronics won’t come in the future — and there’s always a chance flight attendants might take issue with your VR headset. A VRScout staff member was able to take their Gear VR through security in Turkey but was still told by the airline not to use it on the plane.
Fortunately for many fliers, the US Department of Homeland Security announced in late June new enhanced screening requirements that will allow laptops and large electronics in the cabin. Emirates and Turkish Airlines have already met the rules to lift the ban, and other carriers are expected to quickly follow suit to avoid frustrated first and business class passengers.
On the other hand, the UK hasn’t announced similar regulations to lift their laptop ban for flights coming from six countries. A UK Civil Aviation Authority spokesman confirmed to VRScout in an email their country’s ban doesn’t apply to VR or AR headsets.
“The additional security restrictions only affect tablets, phones and laptops,” he said.
Image Credit: Qantas / Sean Ong / Gogo