5 Ideas To Improve Air Travel From a Customer Experience DesignerS

It's easy to get worked up about the ughs of air travel, especially on a week like this. But there are plenty of ways to make flying less terrible—and some of the best minds in design are currently working on them. We posed a simple question to a few of them: If you could do anything to improve the flying experience, what would it be?

This week, we'll be sharing their answers with you. Yesterday we heard from textile designer Elizabeth Whelan, and today we bring you insights from Matt Rolandson, a partner at Ammunition, a San Francisco-based product, interaction, and brand design firm. Rolandson has been a customer experience designer for a decade, bringing people-powered concepts to Disney, Apple, and Coca-Cola. Now, he's got his sights set on air travel. Here's what he had to say.

Stop traveling for business

"Probably the single most effective thing that people can do to get a better experience with travel is to design their lives so that they don't have to do it very much. I have a feeling that half of all business travel could probably be conducted in another way that doesn't require expending massive amounts of financial, environmental, and emotional resources to get around the world. Of course, that's not always tenable (and holiday travel is different). So..."

Be empathetic to the common traveler

"I think there are lots of things that airlines could do to empathize more with the psyche of the traveler. A great example: The majority of the passengers who enter an airplane are going to be in coach. You get on the plane, you're steeling your resolve to take a seat, and the very first thing after you step off the precipice into this compact situation is walking through first class. C'mon—could we orchestrate this in a little more subtle way? Emotionally, it sets a pretty bad tone at the beginning of the experience. It doesn't really say, 'Hey, you've made a great decision to take this trip.' The first message is: 'It's not going to be as good as it could be.' It's terrible."

5 Ideas To Improve Air Travel From a Customer Experience DesignerS

Virgin Atlantic First Class cabin.

5 Ideas To Improve Air Travel From a Customer Experience Designer

Coach. (Photo by Flickr user Peter aka Anemone Projectors)

Focus on the ground when you're in the air

"I remember flying over Iraq at the height of the war; the captain came on and mentioned it and all of a sudden it totally rewired my thoughts. Basically, it's very abstract up there in a plane: it's humming, it's loud, the air is weird. That little map they show is a dim, dim reflection of what's going on, and what's going on is spectacular. You're in a tube traveling above the earth! It's miraculous that you're up there!"

5 Ideas To Improve Air Travel From a Customer Experience Designer

Photo by Flickr user Rene Schwietzke.

"It would be incredible if airlines enabled people to truly take stock of what's actually happening as they pass over landmarks or events or cultures. Creating a tangible connection would give passengers could have a real-time view of what's going on below."

Maybe the answer isn't actually more legroom or a faster security line...

"Clearly there's a great deal of inefficiency and lack of empathy with regards to the whole travel experience: from ticketing to customer care to security to making your way around, it is a very complex, regulated, competitive, cost-pressurized industry. It's brutal. You feel like you're giving up a lot of power. We think it's worth exploring what travelers can do as individuals working within this crappy system—to take control of what they're experiencing on their own terms, even if it's just a mindset or meditation. That's going to have a faster, more tangible achievable outcome than a better seat-back tray."

... So don't forget to relax

"We should all be more engaged with the good part of the travel experience; to focus on why it's meaningful, and why we're doing it, to concentrate on the fact that there is a point, and the point is to experience the world, to press yourself up against it and in an uninterrupted way to feel the sights and sounds. It's not a rational, functional thing—it's a special, amazing, emotional thing. Just taking control of our your emotions and intense feelings will calm you down to give a sense of well-being."

5 Ideas To Improve Air Travel From a Customer Experience Designer

Koto-In Zen Temple Kyoto via Wikimedia Commons

Lead images via Statigram by (clockwise, from top left):_jordster_, shaderzz, baangere, kymieee, morningswithamy, shaderzz

It's one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, so what better time to take a closer look at how we get where we're going—and how we could be doing it better? Check out more of Gizmodo's Air Travel Week posts here.