IN THE early days of commercial flight, people would dress up to take to the air and marvel at the fact that they, members of a heretofore land-bound species, were flying through the sky. Nowadays we clamour for the opposite mindset: one in which we do our best to pretend we are not flying at all.

Such denial has moved a step closer. A French startup called SkyLights has produced a 3-D virtual-reality (VR) headset, with noise-cancelling headphones, that envelops travellers in a cinematic world completely removed from their airborne surroundings. In mid-December, XL Airways, a French low-cost carrier, became the first airline to offer SkyLights to flyers. For $16 per flight, travellers can immerse themselves in new Hollywood releases, in their own individual theatres.

For travellers who want to get away from the many annoyances of flying—from the screaming child in the next row, the loud conversation across the aisle, the seatback movie selection that seems to consist entirely of lowbrow sequels—SkyLights and similar technology could be a godsend. And yet there’s something sad, something resigned, about confining oneself to an...Continue reading