With Renacen’s 3DSeatMapVR solution, flight shoppers will be able to see their selected seats in detail before booking.

Customers will soon be able to take their airline seats for virtual test drives – err, flies – and maybe book a few upgrades along the way.

As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But, as Airbnb might tell us, a picture is also worth hundreds of dollars a month – or $1,025 to be exact.

When the online home-sharing platform launched in 2008, it had an image problem. Prospective venture capitalists couldn’t imagine the platform as something more promising than sketchy craigslist-style listings. And early home listers couldn’t book rentals because their Airbnb listings looked like, well, sketchy craigslist listings. So Airbnb brought in some photographers, and just like that, bookings increased by 250 percent. As these images raked in an average of $1,025 a month, investors and renters started to get the picture.

“Airlines, despite investing a lot of money in differentiating their cabin interiors, are not using the full potential of technology to showcase their products to all their customers.” – Diego de Alcalá Cachero Rodríguez, Renacen

If a similar photo opportunity existed for the airline industry, airlines didn’t get the memo until April this year, when Renacen’s 3DSeatMapVR solution nabbed the Crystal Cabin Award in the Visionary Concepts category. “Hardly anyone plans to book a hotel room without first knowing what it’s like,” Diego de Alcalá Cachero Rodríguez, CEO of Renacen, says. “But airlines, despite investing a lot of money in differentiating their cabin interiors, are not using the full potential of technology to showcase their products to all their customers.”

Yes, airlines have long put their photogenic cabins on display throughout the booking process, but the opportunity is in the details – or more precisely, a desired level of seat specificity that has already given rise to sites like SeatGuru, which lays out seat maps by aircraft. Renacen’s idea, much like Airbnb’s, only more high tech, integrates a visualization engine into an airline’s website so that customers can scope out a detailed view of their selected air beds before booking.

Without the need for downloads or apps, immersive 360-degree, 3-D renderings showcase just how much legroom and window access is available for each seat. Customers using smartphones can experience virtual reality with low-cost headsets like Google Cardboard.

Emirates was the first airline to sign on, launching a 3-D model of its three-class-configured Airbus A380 in May. “We expect customers will use the tool to research the Emirates experience at the planning stage and help them determine what the right options are for them when deciding which cabin class or seats to book,” says Alexander Knigge, senior vice-president, Digital, Corporate Communications, Marketing and Brand, Emirates. The airline will roll out 3-D models for the rest of its fleet and incorporate the experience into its booking flow later this year.

If pictures are indeed worth a thousand words, and hundreds of dollars, an immersive VR experience could potentially be worth more, especially if a virtual trip to an A380 lounge bar inspires booking upgrades.

“Seat-Side Views” was originally published in the 8.4 August/September issue of APEX Experience magazine.