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The User Experience of Airplanes

With Airbus unveiling its Titanic-esque A380 today, I wanted to note that I think this is probably the exactly wrong direction for the airlines to head. While other industries are looking for ways to make their businesses more personalized and designed for individuals, monster planes like this one dehumanize us further, cramming 555 people onto one cramped space.

Sure, they claim that some of the plane's extra space could be used for stores, nurseries, and other sorts of recreational spaces, the makers also note that

how the plane's extra space is used will be left up to airlines, whose A380 cabin designs have remained closely guarded. In the future, low-cost carriers could operate the A380 with a single economy-class configuration accommodating as many as 800 passengers.

Gee, how far in the future do you think that will be?

Airports like London's Heathrow are preparing for the new superjumbos by installing double-decker passenger ramps and enlarged baggage conveyers. But...but...did anyone--a designer--think these things through? The experience of airplane travel and of airports in general is currently terrible. Getting on and off planes is particularly odious. It's going to be great when 800 people try to get in and out through two small doors. How long will it take to load and unload not only people but also baggage? All I can envision are more missed connections, more waiting, and less personalized service.

In short, these superjumbos are built for the airlines, not for their customers. Airlines should have learned from their first-class service (and if they haven't, they should learn from Apple or Starbucks) that people will pay more for a better experience. Virgin gets this, I think, but every other airline is intent on playing a losing game with bargain-basement outfits like Southwest. There is another way: distinguish yourself with your experience design. Make the experience user-centric. One of the many beleaguered airlines should take note and hire a designer. Or ten.

Originally posted at Tuesday, January 18, 2005 | Comments (1) | Trackback (0)

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We've been designing the equivalent of digital hammers--really nice hammers--that do the task at hand (hammering digital nails) but not much else. They don't recognize us or adapt to us at all, they just do the task when they could be multitasking: collecting data about how it's being used and by whom, adjusting itself to make it more personal and more useful. ...

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