Flying the boring skies...

How airlines could change their world - for free

(This blog post was written in 2007. then, some of these ideas have become reality - but airlines still offer largely indistinguishable flying experiences.)

I have done a lot of flying lately, and - like for most frequent fliers - it has been slowly driving me insane. It's not just the interchangeable interiors and workclothes of most airlines, it's the really simple stuff - things that could be changed for free for a far better experience.

Take in-flight announcements for example. Why are they all the same? "We would like to welcome... thank you for choosing... stow your tray-tables ... range of duty-free products.... pleasant rest of your journey..." I mean really, guys, I can "talkalong" with every one of those announcements. Aaaargh!

What a huge opportunity for an airline to stand out from the pack - for absolutely no cost!

The ones who did this best in my recent travels were Liat, the smallest airline I used. The chief stewardess simply got on the intercom and told us a little about our destination as part of the standard announcement. It was mildly interesting, rather charming, and it got people talking. How easy is that?

Imagine a big airline flying into JFK. Why not show a five minute image clip of the city just before landing* - you'd get the film for free from the NYC tourist authority. Why not tell me what the big events in the Big Apple will be this weekend, and let the crewmember (or even passenger) with the best Noo-Yoik accent recommend their favourite parks or local dishes? Heck, let's keep in super-simple: why not just play New York New York on the dang intercom as we come in to land? "Staaaaart spreading the news...." This would cost nothing, folks!

Or, for a small investment, get a good copywriter, author or - better yet - comedian to write your inflight announcements. They could even record them for you.

Another low-tech idea, that wouldn't cost much. When folks get into the plane, give them free postcards. Let them choose between the city they are leaving, and the one they are heading for. The cards could be prepaid, and have a discrete airline logo on the back. Then, when they get off the plane, offer to post the cards for them. Cheap advertising (with an implied endorsement factor), and it extends your user experience both ways...

Given a little more cash, technology could make the flight a heap more interesting. If GoCars can combine GPS technology with a travel guide CD in a scooter, then a big airline can do it for a 747-400. How about a "What's out the window" track on the inflight audio channel? (On flights with very regular routing, you wouldn't even need the GPS). In the more distant future, I can imagine interrogable airplane and car windows. See something interesting out of the window? Just click on it - and learn all about it.

Or how about a seat-to-seat text-based "chat" system? Find out who else on the flight is awake, interesting, and happy to converse. In the business class, it's an instant networking party. For the rest of the plane, it's establishing a community of your customers.

I sometimes feel that airlines - like Victorian mental institutions - are just trying to keep us as quiet and sleepy as possible. Commoditisation, here we come.




* Fabian Segelström points out that this film might interrupt the end of your in-flight-movie. Good call. Instead - what about after landing, during the taxi to the parking position, instead of the boring "Welcome to XYZ, the time here is ABC, and the weather is what you can see out of the window. Thank you for flying Boring Air".

10 comments:

Steve Dragoo said...

As a fellow frequent-flier...I agree whole-heartedly. It sometimes seems that the flight attendants (and sometimes pilots) are trained to screech in loud, high-pitched voices into their under-amped intercom mics. You offer some great ideas. Hey...just some consistent "common courtesy" would be nice.

Karl Long said...

Great point, and something that NY taxis did for a while. Basically they had a brief announcement after you had got in the cab but used the voice of some NY personality telling you to put your seat belt on, it certainly lightened the mood.

Vladimir Dzhuvinov said...

Hmm, that's a good idea! Perhaps you should give Richard Branson a call. His airline seems to like experimenting with stuff like that :)

Katharina said...

Heck, let's keep in super-simple: why not just play New York New York on the dang intercom as we come in to land? "Staaaaart spreading the news...." This would cost nothing, folks!

Just to nitpick -- yeah, it WOULD cost something. A little more than that, even. Public performances of copyrighted material stop being a grey area with something as big as airlines.

Katharina said...

Oh, and another thing (why doesn't blogger let you edit posts, even if you're logged in, by the way?) -- I have never seen an airline that didn't offer postcards on any flight longer than about two hours. Maybe the displays aren't obvious enough. But next time you fly anywhere other than "next door", have a closer look in the front of the compartments for tourist, business and first...

Adam said...

Katharina wrote:

"Public performances of copyrighted material stop being a grey area with something as big as airlines."

As a guy who fills out a GEMA* list every few days, I didn't forget the licences. ;) But the airlines are already showing Hollywood movies, just a couple of weeks after they play in the cinemas, as well as playing music on ten or twenty audio channels. Their existing licencing is robust enough to include one more song, I am sure.

It's good to hear that some airlines are offering a postcard service. :) But I still feel that making a service part of the "experience" means more than just having it available if you ask. (Oh, and the flights that prompted my post were certainly not "next door", they were a mix of intercontinental and international routes.)

While we're on the subject, I have also heard from friends that Air France, among others, offer the chat service I postulated - though only parallel to games. Good to know!

Adam

(* GEMA is the German music licencing authority who make sure that composers and musicians are paid when their recordings are played in public.)

serviceinnovation said...

Maybe we should take the idea of the postcards a bit further:

The airline could simply take the postcards back to where you just left and post the cards back there. So, after you had a terrific holiday and simply spend all you time enjoying it, just do the postcards to Auntie Margaret and your ''beloved' mother-in-law in the plane back home. The airline will take them back to the destination an post them. No one will suspect anything - not the first time the foreign postal system is sooooo slow :-)

And it will keep Auntie Margaret and your mother-in-law out of your thoughts while enjoying a cool cocktain in the sun...

Adam said...

Great idea Markus! A "guilt kit" for hurried travellers....

Graham said...

Hi, good points on here, lots of interesting comments.

zernliew said...

Great tips Adam. Have duly twittered.

I think Singapore Airlines play a clip about Singapore during the taxi to the terminal.

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