At CultureWaves we value our curators’ passions and perspectives on things. Our workshop series is a look at ongoing research projects from our curators on subjects that they are interested in and passionate about.
At CultureWaves we value our curators’ passions and perspectives on things. Our workshop series is a look at ongoing research projects from our curators on subjects that they are interested in and passionate about.

Have you taken a plane anywhere recently?

If you have, you may have noticed that the airports and airplanes are more packed than ever, as our large world becomes smaller. Traveling the distance miles high in the air to take a vacation, visit family or even go to work is far less glorious than it once was. Air travel is no longer for the rich, but for the masses as a valid form of transportation from point A to point B. There was a time when having your own personalized, pixelated and cracked TV screen with a touchpad that worked maybe 20 percent of the time made us feel like we were flying in a science-fiction movie. The prospect of getting upgraded to business or first class for that extra bit of legroom or sip of champagne was truly desirable. Receiving the microwaved television dinner with stale bread or silver package of salty peanuts with a free soda made us feel like we were getting our money’s worth on a luxurious flight. Consumers even received their own personal barf bags free of charge!

The introduction of smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices that could replace the overhead television screens between aisles and inside the back of the headrest was one of the first shake-ups that made airlines realize they were falling behind. Airlines knew that they needed to adapt to consumers who wanted a massive amount of content easily accessed at their fingertips, and companies were quickly built to fulfill this need.

For instance, Airtime Content-to-Go is an app that doesn’t require hardware, seatbacks or in-flight Wi-Fi to stream entertainment for flights. Travelers choose what they want to watch beforehand and download it, and then it erases from their tablet after they land—taking out the dependence of seatback screens, and offering a larger variety of entertainment. Shifting the burden of responsibility to a piece of electronic equipment owned by the flyer allowed airlines to cut costs—specifically for repairs to the ancient television screens and monitors on the back of headrests—while also giving passengers more freedom and control.

These changes are also helping airlines to maximize the amount of space inside an airplane. Over the past few years, you may have noticed that either you’re slowly turning into a giant, or the seats are becoming smaller and more tightly packed. The airlines need to fit as many people as possible to maximize profits, but every flyer has different means and reasons for choosing coach, business or first class.

To help address this, James S.H. Lee, director at Paperclip Design Limited, designed the Butterfly seat for commercial airlines. The seat easily adapts between premium economy and business class, so that airlines can change seating depending on the number of business and premium economy class customers traveling on board. Not only does this make things easier for flight attendants, but it also leaves more adaptation for the airliner to truly maximize profits and consumer comfort.

Finally, one of the most frequent complaints about airliners is the food. To this day, I’m unsure of what mysterious secret kitchen crafts these tough meats, flavorless pastas and wilted pieces of produce, but as consumers, we’re forced to take what we can get if we can’t manage to pack our food beforehand.

Fortunately for first-class flyers, this is no longer the case. Of course, first-class food has always been miles above coach in terms of quality, but Delta Air Lines doesn’t think that’s good enough. Recently, Delta formed an alliance with Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group to serve higher quality food in its Delta One cabins on international flights. The food tastes just as good as Union Square’s restaurant in New York City, giving passengers the sensation that they’re back on land enjoying their favorite meals.

Commercial Airliners are doing much to make flying easier and more enjoyable, even allowing us to use our smartphones and have access to Wi-Fi while traveling, perks that are becoming necessities in everyday life. They’re making these changes not only to maximize the comfort of passengers from coach to first class, but also to maximize the profit. Airline sales will likely continue to rise over the next few years, as flying becomes more affordable to the masses, and more comfortable and luxurious—without the commercial airliners investing massive amounts of money.

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