Surviving to Succeed in the Sky

Surviving to Succeed in the Sky

Since the first plane flight in 1903, air travel has become an essential part of life for more and more people. As a result globalization, there are now about 1.6 billion passengers every year. For them, it is important to be able to enjoy the comfort of cabin, “their temporary home for the duration of the flight” (Hedge). Aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus have long noticed the significance of personal comfort during air traveling and have been trying to accommodate this growing demand. Nevertheless, complaints remain as common as before and a long-haul flight in economy class is still said to be “like an endurance contest” (Gilden). The problem is that although many designs have been made to improve the harsh situation, they are often not adopted by airlines because new aircraft and equipment are mostly far from being affordable. To more or less fill the gap between cost and comfort, I will in what following discuss a few cheaper and simpler designs aimed to improve the economy class cabin on long distance flight.

Flying in economy class for four to eighteen hours or longer can cause “a pain in the neck - and the back and legs and shoulders” (Fuhrmann). Sitting for many hours in this least comfortable cabin can sometimes not only developed stiffness and serious jet lag but also deep-vein thrombosis, “a potentially fatal condition which can happen anywhere” (Fuhrmann). Air travel problems such as narrowed elbowroom, frustrated seat, pressing air, low humidity, limited baggage storage, and insufficient entertainment are most common in economy class on intercontinental flight. Aircraft manufacturers and airlines are aware of the need to make this most unbearable trip better. For example, Boeing has made its new aircraft 7E7 Dreamliner, which will go into service in 2008, more spacious and given it larger window, bigger overhead storage bins, mood-changing lights, softer seat cushions, a TV screen at each seat, and better facilities in general to provide a more comfortable environment. Even an older model like Boeing 777 was also designed to provide most comfort possible: it has wide aisles, upright sidewalls and room-like spaces for better perception, and bins that swing down easily. The company even tried to improve customer service and created crew-rest stations located between the top of the stow bins and the crown of the plane. Although these designs are available, they are not necessarily applicable. The innovations are utilized by few airlines because the improvements they offer are more expensive than what many airlines can afford or what the current market would value. While the airlines are still striving for cutting cost, it should not be difficult to see why they would not buy a new Boeing 777-300ER that costs around US 231.8 million dollars. 44 percent of passengers have shown interest in in-flight Internet access and Boeing has developed Connexion in response, but only seven carriers have accommodated it. Moreover, e-ticket and online check-in have been developed to be more efficient, but they are used only by certain airlines like Cathay Pacific. Undoubtedly, the unease with which to travel in economy cabin on a long-haul flight still remains as these designs by aircraft manufacturers are not put into use by airlines. 25 percent or more of travelers are still found unsatisfied with the leg room, and many desire to have a more enjoyable flying experience in terms of in-flight facility, entertainment, food, and service.

Looking at customer reviews and surveys on various airlines, one may find it reasonable for customers to demanding changes on the brutal marathon air journey. Generally, passengers pay quite a bit amount of money for air traveling, and they expect to be treated in return in a way that pays off the fare. Before the plane takes off, the scheduled flight should be minimum delayed since “time is money,” and since there can also be a transferred flight following. In the cabin, the sanitary condition is often obvious at first sight ant a clean cabin is thus necessary to make the long distance flight not only more comfortable but also better to traveler’s health. Overhead storage bins, seats, and aisle spaces are the next factors to be considered to improve personal comfort. Stow bins should be big enough for the carry-on luggage so that baggage will not have to be stored under the front seat and thus may reduces the legroom. The elbowroom is perhaps the most significant factor to travelers’ well being since cramped seat and aisle often lead to immobility that can be both uncomfortable and unhealthy. This situation is more problematic when a passenger in economy class is trapped in the seat; normally, passengers would rather not get up and move around, “not wanting to bother those beside them by squeezing through the aisle” (Fuhrmann). A seat pitch with a few extra inches available is only at the exit and bulkhead. And rarely, will people have empty seat besides them for extra room. In an unlucky situation, the seat in the front may recline to make the surrounding even more pressing. On the other hand, entertainment can also help get through the long hours. Moreover, a wide range of choices of meals and beverages should be made available to at least meet different preferences since some people cannot take spicy food while others may not drink coffee. Lastly, to provide professional service, flight attendants should be polite, responsive and helpful.

Needless to say, customers’ demands are not always justifiable and airlines are well aware of them. Very often, airlines seem to have understandable excuses for their inability to meet their expectations. Studies have shown that the airline industry has rarely been very profitable and has actually endured significant losses especially since the September 11th incident, the war in Iraq, the crisis of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and the worldwide economic slowdown. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), global international passenger traffic fell 23.5 percent in October 2001, 18.5 percent in April and 21.0 percent in May 2003, respectively after the terrorist attack, the outbreak of Iraq war, and the widespread of SARS. With much fewer passengers, many airlines have made little or no profit. Some of them went into debt and others bankruptcy. There has been a slow recovery since the second half of 2003, but the passenger traffic has been only a few percentage points above the level of 2001, and this fact means that “at least two years of growth has been lost” (IATA). The industry anticipated higher profit in 2004, but the rise of the oil price coupled with challenges of cost cutting on such items as expensive equipment, highly specialized personnel, ground labor and pension plan have gotten in the way. Since many airlines have difficulty in generating profits, it is with no wonder that they did not opt for the better designs to improve the barely bearable economy cabin for long distance flight.

Since customers seem to have no high expectation and, airlines should not be fully blamed for their old and uncomfortable cabin. The real problem is probably that there are no equipment and aircraft to meet both the customers’ demands and airlines’ budgets. Based on recent research, as well as my own experience of traveling long distance in economy class, I have come up with some ideas that can improve travelers’ well-being but do not add much to airlines’ financial burden. First and foremost, the plane can incorporate a cylindrical footplate full of raised obtuse grains that can help relaxing passengers’ sore legs (figure 3). Users can paddle on it and to stretch their foot muscles and improve the blood circulation by means of massage or simply by resting their feet on it. If travelers find it getting in the way and do not want it, they can always lower it to the bottom of the seat and get rid of it completely. On the other hand, a drink holder should be build into the armrest since it can adds a little extra comfort when the table no longer needs to be deployed or when there is only a drink to be held (figure 3). With respect to entertainment, there are two ways to a more enjoyable trip. Airplanes that do not have a personal TV screen at each seat, have installed a big screen at the center front and small screens on the sides. In most situation, people sitting at the back have difficulty seeing the big screen at the front while the small screens that are usually either too small or at an unsuitable position. To solve this problem, seats should be arranged as in a theater so that everyone will be able to see the big screen perfectly (figure 4); this way, the small screens are no longer needed. Aircraft with no computer games can provide board games to be signed out by travelers (figure 5). A bingo can be held as a group activity while awards should be given by advertisers and sponsors to minimize the costs (figure 6). On the other hand, hospitality can be enhanced by placing passengers according to the different language needs or other special needs (figure 7). For example, travelers that speak only Mandarin can be arranged to sit together if they wish to do so; in such case, the Mandarin speaking crew can provide better service in the section. Elders, children, the handicapped, and pregnant women can also sit together in groups so that the attendants can give them more attention to them. To make food more attractive, pictures of food can be shown on the big screen along with brief descriptions in few different languages instead of being put on a menu in the back pocket of the front seat (figure 8). Lastly, all instructions and warnings regarding traveler’s well being should be presented at the beginning along with an introduction to the new designs above.

Since my design can absolutely give a better experience of long-haul flying in economy class and add few costs at the same time, it should be seen as a highly one. Travelers should find the design desirable for their personal comfort while they do not have to pay much for the fare. These airlines in debt and bankruptcy that are trying to turn things around need to understand that “their business was not about flying, it was about serving customers. Keep passengers happy and the money will flow” (Bonné). That is to say, in order to survive and succeed, they should consider investing to make the trip more comfortable and attractive; in the long run, such investment will surely pay off.

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