Force-feeding: Inflight service design thoughts

I am back from a much too short trip to New Zealand ( I will spare you the horrors that followed my initial 11 hour delay, the lost luggage, additional 18 hour delay in Singapore etc… yuck), then back in Amsterdam I went to see the Airworld exhibition at the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam and talking to Victor and Molly I now have enough to write a very looong rant about air travel. So pull your tray table up and your seat in the upright position and off we go.

Let’s just lay down some basics I boarded a plane 6 times in a week, with 2 airline companies. I was also counting and have taken a plane 20 times in the past 2 years…(ugh, so much for sustainable living) so that kinda allows me at this point to draw some conclusions about the experience of flying with low cost airline companies and regular ones as well.

Lets start with the beginning: the half way journey. You’ve packed, you spent hours choosing how many pairs of shoes you really do need for a 4 day trip. (5? or 6?) and now its the painful bit. It’s the transport to the airport that’s the worse. Of course there’s always taxis, or a car, but in general taxis are soooo expensive (eg. in Amsterdam its 3, 60 euros to take the 15 minute train to Schipol or 40 euros to take a taxi). So what about a special oversized shuttle you could book perhaps, like the ones you have at hotels? SMS your address and time of pickup and it goes and picks you up and a bunch of other people, maybe even people from the same flight!

Then when you get to the airport, already sweating and wishing for a shower, commences the check-in process. With any air travel of course come the luggage restrictions (never mind the more recent restrictions), which usually means that i have excess luggage every time and have to pay a hefty sum of local currency. Why on earth is it that you can’t pay for excess luggage at the same point where you check in. You’re there, you hauled your luggage halfway across town, you cued up half an hour or more, the bags are on the scale, they’re inevitably heavier than 20 kgs, and then they ask you to go to ticket booth number blabla over there, take your bags with you, then come back with the receipt and drop them off again. So you pick up everything again, clue up at booth number blabla, and try to pay with your credit card but they only take cash. This would imply you’d have to then look for an atm, cue up again, pay , dragging your luggage with you. What I would like to see is someone at the check in say “oh yeh i have 12 kgs less?” and remove their clothing from the luggage right there and then (because really who wouldn’t pay the fine, its not like you can repack on site) then say “here, ill take this as a carry on then”…
How about this then? What if you were able, to go online before leaving, and once you’ve packed everything, go to your ticket reservation and pay the fine right there… you have a scale at home you can figure it out… and then if you declare a false weight, the luggage still gets checked at the check-in directly. A few steps removed to make for a smoother experience.

Now to the in-flight experience. After I went to the Airworld exhibition I was surprised to learn that the first seats were made out of wicker which they eventually covered with some padding and then made in metal. How odd to think of that material with airplane design nowadays. I guess this is just to say that the seat design is absolutely terrible, not only the position itself but especially the cushion they provide. I appreciate the very strict conditions under which they are operating but i would love to see an integrated and foldable piece of foam that would actually support my head when i am trying to sleep and fall sideways toward another person’s seat. The cushion they provide are a joke, more like 2 pieces of thick toilet paper stitched together…. sigh another thing that i discovered is that meals during flights were a big part of the appeal and a way to 1) give a sense of security to people flying the first planes, because surely if you can eat on a plane, nothing bad could possibly happen : / and 2) a way to divide time in manageable chunks. This now resulted in me eating close to 6 meals in 24 hours… i’m meant to be traveling not bingeing! Is there a way to perhaps deflect attention without necessarily having to deal with food? In one of the flights, I had a Sudoku grid on my snack box, nice idea but where do i get a pen from if i want to solve it? I remember as a child having color crayons and toys given to me to distract me… what’s the adult equivalent? TV? that’s it? What about the intraweb!!!! its fun and people can spend houuuurss on it without seeing the time go by : )

Speaking of food, the experience was practically surreal on the KLM flight on the way to Singapore the first time around… the first thing they fed us was a choice of either ice-cream or a Cup-o-Noodle! Branded and all! This is something that, for the majority of people my age at least is the food you get during your college education coz you can’t afford anything else… and this is what they give to people who’ve just paid a few grand for that flight…wow… : / Would this be a lame attempt at introducing passengers to asian cuisine? I hope not otherwise we’re all doomed.

Then came the Heinz meal of chicken, more branding but little taste. Because my boyfriend is a vegetarian, I’m particularly aware of this at the moment and noticed that there were absolutely no vegetarian options… i wonder if you must mention it when you order your ticket… ill have to do this next time, because 4 meat dishes in a day is just gross. This could make airlines think about who their passengers are and how long they’ve been flying as well. Transfer passengers have been sitting down for what feels like years and need much more useful stimulation than food at that point. Anything else? Inflight yoga stretching solutions? (that actually take into consideration the lack of personal space that you have?)

It was also the first time since sept 11th that I was given metal cutlery , something that I’m sure has been banned again in light of recent events, but boy did that feel weird after so many years of plastic utensils. ( I was once told that companies do all their utensil and cutlery design tests on El Al the Isreali airline because of the religious restrictions. If it passes the El Al tests, it’s good for everyone.)

The one last archaic notion that I think could use great improvement, especially as a woman is the onboard duty-free store. Ask any woman and if you gave her the choice between an expensive piece of kitsch jewelry or a small bottle of hand cream of a moisturizer the choice is quite obvious. Body Shop products anyone? Travel portions of useful in-flight beauty products would sell no problem. All the women in the flight all have their little pouch of stuff to make you feel like you’re not a zombie when you fly and when you step out the plane… there’s definitely opportunities there.

So be smarter, listen to people who are power users and get me a bottle of Evian facial mist!