Leg room. Lumbar support. A nice bed made up with crisp linen. Warm blankets. Suited and booted smiles. Filet mignon. Free-flowing champagne. Mile-high Mai Tais. Double breasted blazers. Hand-rolled Cubans. Single malts. A well-stocked and tended bar. These were all par for the course for your stock standard air traveller decades ago.
Throughout the 60s, 70s and a decent chunk of the 80s, air travel was a truly refined experience.
In their heyday, national airlines acted as de-facto ambassadors on global tours of duty and each flight was a major opportunity to curry up some serious international clout.
From check-in to take-off to touch-down, airlines and airports took the customer experience seriously.
No bag tag, boarding pass, blouse, blazer, timetable book, poster, livery, seat trim, menu, wine list, pillbox hat or hemline escaped careful aesthetically-minded scrutiny in the battle for hearts, minds and bums on seats.
Passengers loved it and airlines were rewarded handsomely for their service.
As rising oil prices, battles between labour and capital and sweeping airline privatisations began to put spreadsheets at the heart of airline decision making, (and probably rightly so to a degree) CEOs tended to push design and the customer experience into the too hard and too unnecessary basket.
We can point to a number of reasons that explain how air travel has evolved the way it has.
Market and labour competition from low-cost carriers and a global drop in union representation among airline staff has seen the quality of inflight service decline due to overworked and underpaid cabin crew.
Advances in materials and their use in slimline seating have allowed more passengers to cram in making it cheaper for more people to travel.
A half-inch thick piece of tech has been able to arm travellers with 1000s of hours of audio visual bliss at the tip of their noses.
Despite air travel becoming more accessible to more people and advances in tech allowing passengers to plug in to more inflight entertainment than ever before, the travelling experience remains hollow and air journeys are now considered something to be endured, not looked forward to.
Elevating Air Travel For All
Low cost carriers have done an excellent job in making air travel affordable for more and more people. That’s a great thing and they’ve well and truly proven that this is a lucrative segment of the market. Now that this sector has cemented its maturity, there’s considerable scope to elevate the customer experience.
We here at Made HQ have come up with eight not-too-difficult and not-too-costly fixes for finessing the future of low cost air travel.
1. Tighten Up Your Tail
A tin of paint in a garish neon yellow costs the same as one carrying an elegant French navy. There’s no intrinsic reason why low-cost carriers have to look as cheap as their ticket price. Good design takes time and costs money but relative to other line-items on an airline’s expense sheet it offers incredible bang for your buck. If we were calling the shots at Jetstar or Ryanair HQ, we’d be getting out the swatches and dressing up our fleet in a premium shade of blue and plastering on a nice classic marque to command admiring eyeballs on any airfield it graces.
2. Excel At Ephemera
The meaning that can be derived from a nice piece of ephemera really shouldn’t be understated. A humble and historic boarding pass can bring back a flood of great memories for any sentimental traveller. We’d get our printers to work on an expanding suite of bag tags, luggage stickers, maps and posters to gift our passengers-cum-brand ambassadors.
3. Looking The Part
Who decided it was a good idea to put an adult woman in a black t-shirt with an orange trim and call that a uniform? For all its ills, fast fashion has democratised style and made looking sharp available to all. Airlines have no excuse for not draping their crew in hard-working dapper duds. We’d look to our friends at Muji and Uniqlo to smartly freshen up our aisles on a budget.
4. Menus Made For Mile-High Mastication
A stodgy sandwich and a muffin in a box does not a meal make. The human palette isn’t built to taste at 34,000 feet. Research has suggested that of our five key tastes, umami is the one that best stands the test of eating at altitude. We’d keep our dinner service simple and unpretentious with hot savoury staples built for quick-and-easy galley cooking.
5. Stretch Those Legs
Low cost carriers are expanding their route maps to include long haul routes and full-service carriers will no-doubt tweak their offerings to compete commercially. We’d take the bet that jettisoning a few rows of seating in order to space out the leg room in economy would be a revenue winner for those keen to trade off a little more cash for a lot more comfort.
6. Spruce-Up Security
In a post 911 world, we’ve come to expect and accept that a thorough scanning and frisking is a necessary component of any journey. To make things run slicker, we’d decentralise the security check and split it out by gate. That will reduce your line size and take the tension off stressed security staff facing unending swarms of neck-pillowed travellers.
7. Exceed Gate Expectations
Walk down any airport concourse before boarding and you’ll notice some resplendent flashes of uniform representing any number of airlines as staff prepare passengers for boarding. It seems like a missed opportunity not to offer a great cup of coffee or a nice, weighty magazine to all passers-by in an effort to showcase your airline’s stellar service to potential future customers. We’d knock together a great looking mobile unit that pumps out fine flat whites and displays a wide array of global print titles for pinching (if you’re a passenger) or purchasing (if you’re a passer-by).
8. Look After Your Front Line
Check-in staff and cabin crew can make or break an airline. Happy, friendly staff equals happy, friendly passengers. To befit their importance to an airline’s reputation, our front line staff would have a voice on our board and would be given a reasonable and regular work roster to give them security. We’d also fund hospitality and language training to help give our crew the leg-up over other airlines.
9. Engaging In-Flight And On-The-Ground
Most airline mags are a collage of products and places put together on the cheap. There’s a gap in the market for a premium travel-focused title with a slab of excellent news and reportage at the front of the book. Our perfect in-flight periodical would pull in the considered coverage offered by Jacobin, The Baffler, The Monthly and The Economist and mix it with the eye-popping travel coverage offered in Travel + Leisure, Holiday and YOLO. Such a collectable title would help sell our brand and it would command a nice sticker price at newsstands around the globe.
10. A Sympathetic C-Suite
We’d love to see airline CEOs get out on the front line more, seeking input from workers on the hangar floor and passengers, both frequent and infrequent. Understanding how an end user experiences your product will give you more insight than any spreadsheet. There are millions of great ideas floating in the consumer aether but you’ve got to go out and grab them.
Made Agency is a design and branding agency headquartered in leafy Double Bay, Sydney. For more ideas from us, follow us on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Is your business in need of a spruce-up? We’re always keen for a chat. Drop us a line and we can get the ball rolling: