Posts tagged “airplane”

Take a moment to consider the 1%

The image above, accompanying an article about private jets, reveals a privation so unimaginable it may shake you to your very core. Yes, that’s the personal UI that the elite are forced to use during their painful time aboard. The ultra-elite no doubt have other people who are paid to look at (ugh!) and touch (aieee!) those buttons while puzzling through gnomic instructions. But the regular rich are just like us, I suppose.

Update: Nathan Shedroff says that’s just for the “wannabe” 1% and the state of the art is here. IMHO still “ugh” but at least current-generation-of-technology ugh.

More on airplanes and elevators

Riffing on Steve’s recent observations…

I noticed this signage on a Southwest Airlines flight a couple of weeks ago (apologies for the poor photo quality). Certainly we need to be crystal clear on something as mission-critical as an airplane door. But does repetition mean clarity? In this case I think it could create some uncertainty – which one REALLY means it’s armed? The state of being “disarmed” is alarmingly de-emphasized.

And what’s this? A new concept in elevators? This calls for a new word altogether, as elevator no longer applies. Of course, this conveyance does in fact carry folks up and down in the usual manner; reasons for the whimsical orientation of the arrow are unclear.

Steve’s earlier posts on elevators can be found here and here, and on airplanes here.

The package is the brand. Now what?

Method soap in here, Virgin America, June, 2010

On a recent Virgin America flight, I saw they were featuring Method hand soap in the bathroom. But (as they have obviously realized) Method’s brand is more recognizable via the uniquely designed dispenser than the name, so the identifying sticker shows a picture of that shape. You don’t have the opportunity to use that container, but by interacting with the generic goo dispenser in the bathroom, perhaps you are supposed to associate somehow with the visual and tactile interaction with the iconic dispenser.

The Virgin America experience seems to be partly about aggregating a hip, design-y, youthful set of other brands for travelers to experience (e.g. BoingBoingTV), but I’m not sure this is a win for Method, or Virgin America. VA seems to have rethought so many traditional aspects of air travel (such as their fantastic safety video) but this compromise evokes the overcompensating-unhelpful-infographic-signage common in commercial aircraft interiors, where you can’t help but feel trapped in a world of call-outs (like the Ikea Catalog scene in Fight Club). And Method takes a straddle position, suggesting that their goo is just goo, if they are forced to offer a visual reminder of the container to help us connect with what is different – and better – about their product.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • FitFlops – the FlipFlop with the Gym Built In – What we girls really need is something like a flip flop that tones and trims our legs while we run errands. We have no free time…We Want a Workout While We Walk!” FitFlop midsoles incorporate patent-pending microwobbleboard ™ technology, to give you a workout while you walk. One woman reported feeling like she’d had a ‘bum-blasting’ workout after a half an hour of FitFlop-shod walking.

    (Thanks to CPT!)

  • Love Land, first sex theme park in China closed before construction completed – Photographs showed workers pulling down a pair of white plastic legs and hips that appear to be the bottom half of a giant female mannequin towering over the park entrance. The mannequin is wearing a red G-string. The park manager, Lu Xiaoqing, had planned to have on hand naked human sculptures, giant models of genitals, sex technique “workshops” and a photography exhibition about the history of sex. The displays would have included lessons on safe sex and the proper use of condoms. Mr. Lu told China Daily that the park was being built “for the good of the public.” Love Land would be useful for sex education, he said, and help adults “enjoy a harmonious sex life.”
  • Air Traveler Satisfaction Goes Up? Look Beyond The Data – The airline business scored 64 out of 100 in the first quarter of this year, a 3.2% increase over the same period a year ago. Airlines were still among the lowest-scoring businesses in the index, which measured customer satisfaction with the products or services of hotels, restaurants and 14 other sectors. Full-service restaurants scored highest at 84. Airlines scored far below their own index high of 72, achieved in 1994. "It certainly looks like most of these increases, if not all, are due to lower passenger load," says Claes Fornell, professor of business at the University of Michigan and index founder, noting that the recession has kept many Americans from traveling. The lower number of passengers "means more seat availability, shorter lines, more on-time arrival, fewer lost bags, and all that probably adds up to a slightly higher level of satisfaction." He noted that a reduction in the number of flights offered could erase the slight gains achieved in passenger satisfaction.

This will be good for my hotel soap collection

I’ll be on the road a fair amount over the next few weeks:
Colorado Springs
Kansas City
Richmond, VA

I’m not sure I’ve done so many trips back-to-back before. It’ll be an interesting challenge keeping my brain alert, my clothes clean, myself rested and healthily fed.

These trips also inaugurate a new collaborative relationship and I’m very excited about the other players and the work and seeing where it all goes!

Watch nine inches

Last week I posted (on Core77) about Virgin America’s new on-board entertainment system.

Here’s a run-through of the system by Charles Ogilvie of the airline.

The information is good, the capabilities are good, but the video is filled with corporate/tech jargon. I’m always amazed at how unable some business folks are to talk to (or about) people in plain ol’ English.

Some of the scary phrases to listen for

  • globally available
  • primary navigation areas
  • list construct
  • watch-related options
  • toolbar will return but in a reconfigured state
  • a cache-format
  • hardware platform
  • running application over Linux
  • stock-out situation

Good marks, however, when a TLA is introduced and defined, and then explained, which is nice,

Much of the lingo is pretty far from how we might want to talk with Virgin (although they mention the dialog back and forth with us they are interested in).

Oh, and did you see the arrow cursor flipping around whenever they showed the on-screen display? Is that real, or an artifact of the demo actually being filmed on a desktop computer and not the seatback? A detail, for sure, but if you’re going to talk about open source, Linux, multi-stream, file servers and the like, expect that same audience to notice things like faked-out demos.

A quicker and more polished on-board tour is here.

What are you selling?

I’m impressed and concerned by these ads for air travel that show the boarding bridge, only. Sitting on board a plane pretty much sucks, so why show that part of your experience? Show what you get, instead, by sitting on a plane – you get to be someplace else. This idea is not new, of course, but the choice to show the physical equipment being used with the deliberate exception of the plane itself is striking. How challenging it would be to try and sell people on the riding-of-planes, rather than the arriving-at-destinations.

Interisland zaniness

During our recent vacation we took an interisland flight from Honolulu to Lihue on Kauai. The Honolulu terminal is laid-back, to put it mildly. I’ve boarded from the tarmac elsewhere and it’s usually very clear where you can and can’t walk; with barricades, and people blocking your path and pointing which way to go.

Not so in Honolulu. The boarding area is rectangular, with one wall facing the tarmac and a series of doors, each a different gate. When you go through the gate and surrender your ticket, they tell you nothing about where to go next. You are standing on the tarmac facing a whole bunch of planes. Each gate leads to roughly the same place, with no wayfinding or anything to guide your passage to the plane itself.

We looked at the different logos and figured which gathering of small planes would be the one from our airline and we started wandering that way. Some passengers were cutting across the open paved space, others were walking along the edges. Eventually we found some ground crew who tried to figure out which plane we should be on; but the interaction was so slack that clearly this was not part of their ordinary role.

It hardly seemed safe; it absolutely wasn’t secure, and it was ridiculous customer service. There’s a difference between the Aloha Spirit and just leaving people to fend for themselves with no information or guidance. I wasn’t impressed.

Verizon to End Airline Telephone Service

I wrote (a while back) about phone calls on airplanes, and was intrigued to see this news today

Verizon Airfone, whose handsets have graced the backs of airline seats for more than two decades, will end its phone service on commercial airliners before the end of the year.

Verizon Communications, Airfone’s parent company, has decided instead to focus on its faster-growing broadband, cellular and television businesses, Jim Pilcher, the director of marketing at Verizon Airfone, said yesterday.

Though Mr. Pilcher declined to say how many customers Airfone has, industry analysts said the service was rarely used. Verizon, they said, would have had to spend heavily to install newer, more compelling technology.

“The business they went after is the calling business, and the reality is no one sits on planes and makes calls,” said Jonathan Schildkraut, a telecommunications analyst at Jefferies & Company. Verizon has “much bigger fish to fry,” he said.

Airfone, which Verizon acquired when it bought GTE in 2000, has phones in about 1,000 planes operated by Continental, Delta, United Airlines and US Airways. The company will work with the airlines to figure out how to remove the phones and other equipment from the planes.

Airfone, which began service 21 years ago, is still exploring the option of selling the business. Mr. Pilcher declined to say whether his company had identified any potential buyers.

Airfone will continue to provide telecommunications services on about 3,400 corporate and government planes.

I’ve rarely seen the phones used, as their expert suggests. Do we think data services (i.e., get your laptop on the Internet while you fly) is a bigger fish? Is using your own personal cell phone a bigger fish? Maybe we’ll get seatback LCD screens in place of the phones. Or in-seat pretzel dispensers that could make use of the credit-card-swiping mechanism already in place?

AirTroductions – There’s Something in the Air

AirTroductions is something I don’t quite get. How can this possibly survive? You can try to meet a new person online based on your travel plans; then arrange to sit together. Maybe they should just call it or something. Let’s combine the hair-pulling ennui of a long flight with the tedium/fear blend of a blind date! It must be the Web 2.0!!!

JenS, 29, Female
USA, Oregon, Portland
I’m a twenty-something public relations professional who travels mostly for work, several times a year. I love my job, my two Chihuahuas, and living in Portland.

I’d like to meet:
I’m looking for fun people to sit next to on the plane. Sharing of books, magazines, and music is encouraged but not required. Sharing of drinks and laughs are a must.

I’m more comfortable with (Pick as many as you like to let people know more about you!):
The W Hotel, Las Vegas on the Strip , Paris at night, The Emergency Exit Row, First Class, Vodka Martini, Diet Soda

I’m searchable as:
both business and personal

I’d be very curious to hear from people who have tried this or would try this; my bias is very personal and I know there’s more stories out there than mine.

Was It Real for You, Too? – New York Times

NYT op-ed piece relates what happens when a near-emergency on a flight turns into fodder for reality TV

Flight 1004 made its careful descent. Later, a Southwest official would explain to me that after takeoff, the control stick in the cockpit had begun to shake violently – the universal warning to pilots that a plane is about to stall. To the captain, the jetliner seemed to be flying fine. But the shaking stick would not stop. We had reversed our course; it would turn out that an angle-of-attack measurement vane on the exterior of the plane had broken, and the pilots were receiving a false indication of the impending stall. But neither the crew nor the passengers knew that at the time.

We landed, to the audible relief of those on board, pulled up to the gate, and – before the captain could tell us what had gone wrong – four people entered through a jetway. One held a television camera; another began handing out release-permission forms.

The captain – referring to the camera crew – told us: ‘They’re ours.’

The television people were from an entertainment series called ‘Airline,’ which runs on the A&E cable network. The program is one of the many so-called reality shows – nonfiction. Highly stylized, accompanied by a soundtrack of guitars and percussion instruments, ‘Airline’ weaves in and out of several stories at Southwest Airlines each week.

Five minutes earlier, we had been holding our breaths. Now the camera was rolling; as the captain stood in the aisle and explained to us about the aborted flight, the lens pointed over his shoulder, catching our expressions.

We had already become a plot point – it had happened just that swiftly. The realness of the trepidation we had felt in the air had seamlessly been turned into reality, that parallel but separate new state. The clammy uncertainty that had filled the plane was even now being packaged as entertainment, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

We hadn’t been given permission to stand up yet, and no one had aspired to be a part of this, but the production had commenced. It felt oddly familiar, and it was, because permutations of it have been around us for a while now: 911-call audiotapes with the anguished sounds of people in the worst moments of their lives, their recorded voices involuntarily played on TV and radio for the divertissement of strangers; surveillance videotapes from brutal convenience store robberies and shootings, routinely televised for all to watch; children being beaten by school-bus bullies, caught on video, broadcast nationwide if the images are gripping enough. Life as a carnival sideshow.

Cingular sez Keep ban of cellphone calls on flights

Cingular is in favor of banning cell phone usage on airplanes

“‘We believe there is a time and a place for wireless phone conversations, and seldom does that include the confines of an airplane flight,’ Cingular wrote in a June 8 letter to the FAA…’Cingular will encourage passengers to ‘tap, not talk’ – that is, to use discreet services such as text messaging and e-mail as opposed to voice communications in flight,’ the carrier wrote.”

Surprising but pleasing occurrence! For more analysis on this issue, check out my recent FreshMeat “Push to Talk.”

FreshMeat #24: Push to Talk

FreshMeat #24 from Steve Portigal

               (oo) Fresh
                \\/  Meat 

Last night I dreamt I read FreshMeat again
Telephone line, give me some time

The cell phone continues to be a surprisingly
prominent item in our public discourse. The idea of the
phone exists on multiple simultaneous fronts:

– a technology platform for multimedia (i.e., camera
phones and text messaging)

– an economic booster (ringtones, just the latest flavor
in mobile merchandising are big bucks, perhaps even a
legit solution to the problem of music sharing)

– a designed accessory that displays economic and social
status (or at least aspirations thereof) – check out
Bling Kit for cell phones, including Swarovski
crystals, the rhinestones of the new millennium

– a performance item to either facilitate or impede
social interaction (just when we were beginning to get
used to the handsfree users who appear to walk around
talking to no one, the New York Times reports on a
supposedly emerging behavior where people use their
phones to avoid face-to-face interactions, making
like they are talking to someone – but are really
talking to no one)

– a challenge to unstated but powerful social norms (in
one of many examples, a man got out of his car and
punched another driver who was talking on his phone
instead of moving when the light turned green)

This last area is seeing an unusual amount of activity
recently, as the powers-that-be are exploring the
possibility of using cell phones on airplanes. The
airplane is a space that has had strict controls on cell
phone usage, and as changes to those controls are slowly
being considered, the debate is growing. This is fairly
unique in the history of the cell phone – it wasn’t until
they began appearing (and ringing) in hospitals and
movie theaters and concert halls and libraries and
trains and restaurants and classrooms and places of
worship and banks that rules intended to control use
began to appear. Belatedly, signs are posted, threats
are made, and consideration of others is urged. But I
think most of us have given up on reliably avoiding
annoying or disruptive ringing and talking.

Virgin territory – using your cell phone on an
airplane – has now appeared, and the battle lines are
being drawn. If you’ve heard about this issue, you’ve
probably heard some strong opinions being expressed.
If not, when you first consider the possibility of
in-flight cell phone usage, what comes to mind? Being
reachable throughout your trip, or the horrifyingly
likely possibility of a loud-mouthed doofus bellowing
details of his root canal all the way to JFK? I’ll bet
that it’s the latter; the careful balance begins to tilt
between i) the benefit to us for access to the phone and
ii) the cost to us for others having access to their

Of course, there are more players involved than just us
and the doofus in the middle seat. Technologies/products
are part of larger systems, and any changes are going to
impact each element of that system in a different way.
Careful consideration of the different players is
essential to fully understand the drivers for change,
the barriers, and the potential impacts. For this issue,
let’s take a look at who’s who:

A. passengers making and/or receiving calls
B. passengers who are not making or receiving calls
C. flight attendants
D. airlines
E. airplane manufacturers
F. wireless carriers (i.e., Verizon, Cingular)
G. infrastructure players (i.e., whoever enables this
new technological capability)
H. handset manufacturers
I. government

Let’s look at each of them in turn:

A. passengers making and/or receiving calls

There are already phones on board the plane. People can
make calls while flying. Using cell phones would
enable passengers to receive calls. All the features
of the handset (i.e., phone book) would be available.
These are both powerful symbols of greater personal
control. The travel experience often entails a
significant surrender of control, even of the most
basic functions (time and choices of food, sleep
schedules, access to a bathroom), so whatever people
can do to reassert that control will have some appeal.

A parallel example might be the payphone; in
metropolitan areas payphones were ubiquitous, yet cell
phone adoption grew enormously and the payphone
continues to fade away. Individual control over the
device itself triumphed “good enough” access.

The ability to make and receive calls (even if these
passengers seldom or never take advantage of that
ability) is a big win for these folks, although there
has not been a lot of impassioned demand for this from
the public.

Conclusion: benefit of new capability

B. passengers who are not making or receiving calls

The loss of control we experience while traveling comes
not only from the circumstances of travel, but also the
intrusion of other people – who we can not control –
into our lives, spaces, and faces. “The screaming baby,”
“the drunken boor,” and “the snoring fat guy” are well-
established archetypes for comedy routines and reality

A tangible manifestation of the control issue was
obvious in last year’s Knee Defender, a product that
would enable you to prevent the person in front of you
from leaning their seat back into “your” space. The
suggestion here was that you could physically over-ride
the conventions of the airplane (you may lean; you may
also be leaned into) and that was okay. More power to
you, for taking whatever control you could, even at the
expense of others.

Our experiences with others who use their cell phones
around us (during our non-travel times) are poorly
regarded. Anyone reading this can probably come up with
their most recent horror story in less than 5 seconds.
Giving other people the power to further disrespect our
personal space and surrender control over our environment
while traveling seems to be a potential for even more
unhappy traveling (even though there is significant
overlap between group A and group B), and the amount of
public grumbling about this potential bears witness to

Conclusion: cost of annoyance

C. flight attendants

No doubt that any new regulations would require some
sort of new monitoring role by the flight attendants.
Passengers that can do more with more devices now are
more independent and need more attention, i.e., making
sure that cell phones are only on during certain
portions of the flight, making sure that passengers talk
at a reasonable volume or set their ringers to vibrate.
Whatever it is, it’s going to require more work from
them. Perhaps they may benefit from access to their
phones during breaks, but the increase in their work
makes this mostly a loss for them.

Conclusion: cost of extra work

D. airlines

Current airplane phones add two inches to the thickness
of the seatback. Removing those phones would allow more
seats to be installed, or perhaps make room for
entertainment equipment such as the TV screens that
JetBlue offers as standard amenities.

One would also expect that whatever technology enables
on-board cell phone usage would be something they could
charge an extra fee for. It may even be a feature of how
the technology is developed, to provide a fee-for-access
gateway (just like WiFi access at some coffee shops).

The existing phones may remain on board; as long he
boarding process. Already the rules begin to be changed.
Once you get to the seatback card (labeled a “guide to
how to make the world a better place…one flight at a
time.”) you may begin to consider the flight experience
differently. The card reads “Be nice. Attitude is
everything on JetBlue. Kindness, respect and
consideration are the way to a nice flight.” Amusing
graphics that evoke traditional flight safety cards
depict passengers creating a common experience, for
example introducing themselves to each other. Sure, many
of us do that on a plane, but JetBlue takes some
ownership of it, and encourages it, with just enough
humor. Other graphics discourage people from bringing
their own smelly fish on board, or sleeping on the
shoulder of their neighbor, or removing their shoes when
their feet are too pungent.

JetBlue (and some of the other newer, more innovative,
and interestingly cheaper airlines) are rethinking the
entire experience they are creating for passengers. A
fresh look at air travel won’t eliminate turbulence, of
course, but they could easily extend this to help people
manage their behavior. Rather than a turf war over
knees, shoulders, ears, and mouths, creating a common
experience could encourage cooperation, establish new
social norms (and social sanctions rather than punitive
ones) that would allow for polite cell phone usage.
Sure, I’m skeptical too. Adding some verbiage to the
pre-flight announcement and posting a few stickers isn’t
going to do it. A new approach to creating a
relationship between the passengers and the airline, and
between the passengers themselves is the key. The
dinosaur airlines aren’t capable of this (i.e., United’s
Ted is a cheaper United, with better graphic design;
it’s not a re-think of the flight experience the way
JetBlue is).

Two thoughts by way of conclusion here: first, with any
new offering, if we fail to understand the differing
concerns of the larger set of stakeholders, we run the
risk of limiting our success; second, if there is a way
to encourage desired behavior rather than enforce
restrictions on undesired behavior, that may be the way
to greater success. We’re trying this strategy with our
dog, in fact.

This discussion is all about voice. Other work is being
done to enable WiFi on airplanes; presumably the cell
network could also transmit data to allow email or
Internet surfing, but that seems peripheral to the
issues at hand. Laptop users on board airplanes with
high-speed Internet access can now do VOIP (voice-over-
IP, or Internet telephony) but right now that’s a
smaller, bleeding-edge type of user unlikely to have the
type of impact we’re considering.

Is it actually dangerous to use today’s phones on
today’s planes? This is one report that documents
the effects of mobile phones on avionic (isn’t
that a great word?) gear. But other studies have
said it’s not a problem. Hence the complicated
governmental role – between communications (FCC)
and aviation (FAA). Sure, there’s reason to be
skeptical, compare the supposed danger of using
a cell phone at a gas station
, which even led to
proposed legislation in some US states.

See Don Norman’s recent essay Minimizing the annoyance
of the mobile phone – The Annoyance, Irritation, and
Frustration of The Mobile Phone — A Design Challenge

Excerpt: "We are in real danger of a consumer backlash
against annoying technologies. We already have seen the
growth of mobile-phone free zones, of prohibition
against phone use, camera use, camera phones, in all
sort of public and private places. The mobile phone has
been shown to be a dangerous distraction to the driver
of an automobile, whether hands-free or not. If we do
nothing to overcome these problems, then the benefits
these technologies bring may very well be denied us
because the social costs are simply too great."


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