Recently, one of my friends shared a video titled "The Next Generation of Transportation!". The concept depicted in the video led to a friendly argument. The main problem the designer intended to solve here remained unclear; My opinion was that the design appeared to be a failed attempt to improve rail transport by bringing in the concept of an aircraft. My friend disagreed because it had some superiority to both ground and air transportation. Comparing to airliners, this concept showed a much easier boarding and deboarding experience.
This argument took me into another interesting topic: how might we shorten air travel's notorious boarding and deboarding experience? I certainly don't think making an airliner flying low and attached to a track is the right solution. But then what is? Or, start from the very beginning, what causes getting on and off an airplane so impressively difficult? And how might we make a change?
My persistence (stubbornness) doesn't allow me to stop at just raising a question. I went ahead to make the exploration and many opportunities surfaced. I'm using boarding as the example, since it and deboarding are fairly symmetric.
Below is my dissection of an airplane traveler's boarding journey:
BEFORE THE AIRPORT
Although this is not part of the airport/airplane design, it directly affects people's perception of the whole trip.
Airplanes are huge. They need massive aerodromes to park, operate, and accommodate the passengers they carry. Even the largest city on the earth can only afford very few of such facilities.
Therefore, the aerodromes (or commonly known as airports) often locate far away from the populated downtown. It would take the user quite some time to get there.
How might we bring the airport "closer" to travelers' residencies?
AT THE AIRPORT
And the pain has just started when the traveler makes to the airport. Because the construction is large and complex, it is not easier to navigate within it. On my fourth time landing in Chicago's O'Hare Airport (and not counting the times I conducted field research there for school project), I still got lost on my way exiting to the city transit!
Airport presents a higher risk for terrorism and other forms of crime. Hence both the airlines and the airport administration operate strict check-in and security practice to ensure safety.
These characteristics, along with the man-made unpredictability, increase the time and effort getting to the designated airliner.
How might we makes wayfinding in the airport more intuitive?
How might we redesign check-in to be smooth for everyone, even those with extra luggages?
How might we make the security examination more efficient?
BOARDING THE AIRPLANE
At the boarding gate, flight attendees verify each passenger's boarding pass in person. Unlike ground transportations, passengers then need to stroll through a long bridge that connects terminal with actual airplane entrance.
This process includes particularly extensive waiting. As for long distance travel, passengers may carry more belongings that cost them more time to organize; the airliner holds hundreds of passengers while only a one-person aisle is available; and all of the passengers are boarding and deboarding at the same time.
How might we create a quick and secure ticket scanner system?
How might we build the airplane, boarding gate and boarding bridge for more seamless joining?
How might we design the airliner in a way that passengers can easily store their carry-ons?
How might we design the airliner to allow more passengers enter, leave and walk around more freely?
I am honestly excited about the discoveries developed from a random discussion. There is obviously plenty opportunities for innovators in different fields to dig into. For my idea on a digital solution, please check here.
I hope you have enjoyed this topic. What do you think about the next-gen idea at the beginning? How do you think about our boarding and deboarding experience, as an air traveler and a designer? I would love to hear from you.
I investigated in air transport to answer some questions I had. In return I found very fascinating facts. Here is a deck I created in case you are also a trivia nerd: