First, business, premium economy and economy… the classes anyone who’s ever flown knows all too well. Choose your class, pay your price, get your extra leg room (or not). The status-quo when it comes to the amenities (or lack thereof) for airline passengers is pretty established. Prices rise as seats get larger or a drink is thrown in. But what if classes were defined completely differently? What if you reserved your ticket based on what you want to do or how you want to experience the space you’ll inhabit while 30,000 feet above?
We invite you read this report with an open mind, understanding that we approached this with an eye toward possibilities unconstrained by the myriad real-life requirements and challenges that face those developing passenger experience and cabin equipment. These types of exercises force us to think differently and challenge how we view problems and how they can be creatively addressed.
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Some airlines are touching on this strategy, like United, with their Polaris First Class option that was designed to deliver on a comfortable sleep experience, or Emirates, who famously offers a luxury hotel-like experience with its premium on-board shower and Bvlgari toiletries. But we argue that it can be taken farther.
What if passengers could choose their experience based on why they’re traveling? What if the flight was seen as an extension of the destination - part of the trip, not just a means to an end?
In the U.S. alone, more than 42,000 flights carrying 2.5 million passengers are flown within the 29 million square miles of airspace managed by the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO)1. Why are they traveling? Nearly 3 out of 4 domestic trips taken are for leisure purposes2.
In our concepts, stepping onto the plane is the beginning of the experience, not a just a way to get to an end destination. We decided to brainstorm around passengers’ intentions on how they want to spend their travel time, ultimately thinking about fresh ways to approach three new ‘classes’: Family Class, Relaxation Class and Productivity Class.
In our ‘Family Class’ concept, the whole family can enjoy a ‘window’ seat. With talk of windowless cabins recently, the question is how to make the cabin feel open while eliminating the view outside.
As we reported in our AIX 2018 Trend Report, companies were showing interesting lighting technologies, like Rockwell Collins’ Secant Luminous Panel LED ceiling lighting display. What if the lighting moved from the ceiling to the walls, creating an immersive mood lighting and branding experience? Oculus Technologies’ translucent and semi-translucent mirrors also caught our eye at AIX 2018, and we asked then if these might have a place in windowless passenger aircraft. One of their technologies shown at the Expo demonstrated the ability to deliver information and enable interaction on a mirror-like surface. How fun could flying become for a family to watch a movie together on a big ‘screen’ on the cabin wall, or watch the virtual sites below on a wide, window-like ‘opening’.
462.0 million overnight trips for business purposes were taken by U.S. residents in 2017, with 38% for meetings and events3.
Our team then dove into examining the work accommodations in-flight when designing for what we’re calling ‘Productivity Class’. What if your team could meet in privacy on the way to see a client? What if time in the air is just as productive as time in the office?
In an extensive survey of business travelers, the average length of time of lost productivity was 6.9 hours; the financial equivalent upper limit was $662.00. The lost time for International trips was even more dramatic at 15.6 hours4.
Airlines may find it easier to sell an upgrade when there is real business value behind the extra spend: employees maintain productivity during the trip.
The prolific pod displays at this year’s NEOCON show, which can be seen in our Trend Report, inspired an idea of a group pod space, where passengers can meet in privacy, with equipment commonly found in conference rooms, extending the work day into the travel experience.
On the heels of our LiFi demonstration at the Airline Passenger Experience Expo (2018) last month, we’re thinking about how this technology could be a fit for exactly this type of application. LiFi has been proven capable of transferring data up to 100 times faster than WiFi and requires direct line of sight to work efficiently, making the pod structure, even if fabric, an effective barrier to the rest of the cabin, enabling only those inside to leverage the ultra-fast LiFi. Imagine higher resolution video conferencing, high-end projection equipment, wireless charging, bluetooth connectivity, embedded displays in the fabric and being surrounded by sound absorbing materials, making sensitive discussions possible while in flight.
30% of vacationers do not feel relaxed until the second day (or later) of vacation5.
Though there are some exceptions to the rule, typically the flight experience is not one of the more decompressing elements of travel. What if the flight really felt like the first enjoyable part of vacation? What if the seating adjusted to how you really wanted to spend your flight time?
In this concept, we explored innovations in seats which centered around a unique rail system that enabled modularity in the embedded technologies, simple delighter elements and in how the passenger can position himself in the seat. Imagine electing to have a heated and/or cooled and vented seat, choosing to leverage the center seat to fold down so you can your partner can play games, or make a shared tray for sharing a bottle of wine. Picture easily folding the chair over in order to take advantage of an in-flight massage,
Some aspects of the passenger experience have come a long way, especially in the last handful of years, but there are still many opportunities to explore and new solutions to be created to elevate air flight to a new level. We’re excited to be part of it.
Would you like to talk to one of our team members about solutions you’re working to bring to market or would you like to explore the possibilities afforded by new technologies?
Contributors: Gil Cavada, George Guffey, Erik Moses, Nicole Byer, Jake Vail, Brian Perille
Note: We develop solutions for the aerospace industry and other highly regulated industries every day. We know that there would be challenges in bringing some of these concepts to fruition. During this exercise, we wanted to focus on thinking about possibilities, in developing a conceptual, blue sky idea, untethered by real-life constraints. Exercises like these in which we push boundaries challenge us to always be thinking differently and looking for new opportunities to move the travel experience forward.