Posts tagged “flying”

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.

Up in the air

Aka, a removable feast. Strong signs of cultural change as airline meals morph, evolve, and devolve. Compare my recent repast on United ($7 for the boxed snack set)

with the hot meal below, from a 1960s Braniff domestic flight.

It’s striking how much cultural norms and consumer expectations around hospitality in this context have changed – imagine handing that 1960s passenger the meal I got on my flight.

See more airline meals throughout the decades 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.

Bombay Sapphire, anyone?

Low-cost airline pilot ‘tried to fly drunk’

An Indian low-cost airline suspended a pilot after he was found drunk shortly before he was due to fly an aircraft with about 100 passengers on board, officials said on Wednesday.

The surprise Tuesday check at Mumbai airport — India’s busiest — threw up several minor violations of safety norms by airlines, including an instance of a pilot in another low-cost carrier trying to fly in a T-shirt because his only uniform had gone to the laundry.

“threw up several minor violations” is an interesting choice of words.

Bombay Sapphire, anyone?

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.

Advertising in the air

Kind of horrifying follow-up to my recent experience with captive advertising on Contintental is in today’s WaPo

On a recent Alaska Airlines flight, passengers were told to remain buckled and seated for the last 30 minutes before landing at Reagan National Airport. It was a standard security measure for flights heading into restricted airspace over Washington.

It also turned a planeful of passengers into captive customers who were then pitched a Bank of America Visa card — with little chance of tuning it out. Over the intercom, a flight attendant encouraged passengers to sign up for the Bank of America credit card. Then other flight attendants went down the aisle handing out applications.

Marketing now follows potential customers into the skies. In the airline industry’s newest way to drum up revenue, carriers have become aggressive pitchmen for a range of products to passengers at 30,000 feet. The airlines say the ad revenue helps in these tough financial times. But some passengers liken the pitches to ads in a movie theater before the main feature.

“It’s worse than the idea of cell phones in flights,” said frequent flier Sylvia Caras of Santa Cruz, Calif.

Advertising in the air is nothing new. Most airlines run some commercials during their in-flight entertainment. And most in-flight magazines carry ads.

But until now, passengers could simply look away from the screen or turn the magazine page.

For Alexander Velaj, a Stamford, Conn., insurance agent, the latest trend in on-board salesmanship is another reason for “purchasing the Bose noise-canceling headphones.”

But Montgomery College English professor Chet Pryor said he accepts the in-flight product pitches as the trade-off for lower fares. “They’re simply something that must be endured,” he said.

Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Amanda Tobin said passengers had expressed an interest in learning more about applying for Visa credit cards and that the airline’s flight attendants share “basic” information.

(that last bit just kills me – I have a fantasy blog entry where I’d just take count of every ridiculous corporate behavior that is justified with that false marketingspeak about how their customers told them that they wanted this)

Auditory Experiences

Two experiences of note with audio

i) Continental Airlines shows ads on their flights, before they begin the in-flight programming. In other words, through the regular audio system, not the headphone systems. The ads are very very loud. Painfully loud. You’re strapped into your seat and you can’t get away. The screens drop down, the audio starts. You have nowhere else to look and even with my fingers in my ears I could hear every damn noise in the Verizon and Are We There Yet? ads. Blecchgh.


ii) Walking through Midtown Manhattan this morning, I saw the all-too-familiar emergency-vehicle-gridlock scenario. An ambulance or fire truck is rushing somewhere, sirens wailing, but there’s nowhere for them to go – the lanes in front of them are blocked, so they sound the air horn, over and over again, to very little avail. Only this time it was slightly different – the ambulance in question had a modified type of siren, akin to the “wheep-WHEEP” they sometimes use as a honk, but it was almost verbal in its wide range of fluctuations. There was a large “vocabulary” if you will, and it seemed to convey more urgency, rather than rote pressure. I’m sure there is a human-factors alarm attendance specialist who designed this stuff (or at least who has written about it somewhere), but I’d never heard of it or heard it. I’m sure that eventually people will become used to it and tune it out, but since it was new to me, it caught my attention.

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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