Redesigning Air Travel Pt. 1

The golden age of travel is over. It's been over. We've been packed onto planes like sardines, hit with innumerable fees, and consider ourselves lucky if we get to have two ginger ales on the same flight.  And just a few months ago, some of the most ridiculous plans yet surfaced through actual filed patents (via CNN.)

Through all these cost cutting measures though, another casualty has taken a hit, and that's design. Every moment in the air travel experience used to be designed, and designed well. The items were not only functional to keep a highly complicated system moving along, but they also became a souvenir of the places you've been. It was about maintaining a consistent branded experience long before digital experiences existed.

Just take a look inside the TWA terminal at JFK (Gothamist), and one can easily understand the consistent branded experience. The TWA terminal made you feel like you were a part of the future. Once inside you were living the TWA experience from checking the arrivals/departures board to having a drink in a communal wait area. Compare the terminal of yesterday to the infamous Terminal E in Philadelphia, where you wonder if you are in a weird patient zero horror film.

Another prime example of design for airlines is contained in Otl Aicher's brand work for Lufthansa. The recently published book showcases not only the process for reviving an already iconic brand, but it showed every meticulous attention to detail. With no stone left unturned, the Lufthansa brand is an experience once again, from your booking to the way you pick up luggage. Colors, logos, and typefaces are used in a rigid and beautiful execution of brand standards making Lufthansa the gold standard for air travel design.

It was those same attentions to details that made the golden age of travel special. It wasn't just about hitting your passengers over their head with a brand, it was well designed, and it was functional. Your boarding passes were actual printed items, and your luggage tags easily became a souvenir at the end of your trip. And somewhere in all of the cost cutting we not only lost a little bit of the souvenir, we also lost functionality.

How many times do you watch people getting in the wrong seats? And how many times does luggage get lost? It's the result of a failing design system and functional aesthetic. Could reviving some of these mementos and antiquities of the golden age actually have a positive impact on air travel for both passengers and companies? This redesigning air travel series will investigate better ways to display your two most important documents, your boarding pass and your luggage tags.

So stay tuned. This challenge is just getting started.