TED Conversations

Sarah Shewey

CEO/Founder, Happily


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Rethink the human-centered airline experience. *A TEDActive Travel Project*


The TEDActive Travel Project will examine customer experience onboard the plane and beyond the terminal. We'll look at the challenges and opportunities, for both individual travelers and the airline industry, and produce a set of recommendations to enhance air travel.

At TEDActive2011 in Palm Springs, an amazing group of individuals came together and came up with some easy ways that anyone can change their airline experience. After a quick 36 hour period of time, they recommended that we make an effort to see travel as a social experience, to be an active part of the journey and not just a passenger going to a destination.

Please share your own ideas for a better air travel experience below or start a new conversation and tag them with TEDActiveFLY so we can join in!


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    Apr 18 2011: I think a MAJOR contributor to traveler experience is the attitude of the staff and the quality of the training. Nobody likes it when things go wrong, staff and passengers.

    Angry, indifferent and "Do I look like I care" attitudes don't help any. Particularly frustrating for both staff and passengers is staff inability to fix even the most minor of issues or being bogged down with bureaucracy.

    How many times have you asked a question and got more than one answer? My most frustrating experience is being told "You have to go to the other end of the terminal to get your luggage" only to be told I have to go all the way back because they didn't give me a form. Then return all the way back to hand in the form TO GO ALL THE WAY BACK AGAIN to pick up my luggage which was behind the door of my original request. I almost missed my transit flight.
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      Apr 19 2011: Jon, I completely agree. A great smile, a kind offer, a dissolved conflict, a calm demeanor, a funny and fresh version of safety instructions can all go a very long way to forgive cramped seating, flavorless food, narrow aisles, tunnel ( I can not even use the adjective closet-like as this space is massively smaller than any I have ever seen) bathrooms. LOPA: layout of passenger arrangement is currently a marketing calculation. What if instead the market calculation was determined by the quality of the experience an airline provided for its passengers?

      What if each flight became memorable for the creative entertainment encouraged in a specific part of the cabin? What if the time on the flight were viewed not as down time, but rather create-a-community time. Having a hundred strangers for 4 hours in one location is rare. In which ways could that space facilitate an experience that makes passengers desire to be a part of that happening over another travel experience that stores your body until it reaches its destination. Singers raise your voices, humorists a captive audience, and what kind of dancing in the aisles could be accomplished in that narrow aisle? AirTED talks anyone? How could the vibe be the thing that sets this flight well beyond the generic few hours of pretending you are sleeping, or reading your Ipad. How could each flight become an unduplicatable happening?

      I do remember a few flights when this happened by accident. What if an airline were known for this as a regular and incited experience? Which would you choose? Think Cirque du Soleil meets TEDx in the air.
      This would be a differentiating factor vanishing the hours in the air into I wish we had more time together.
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      Apr 27 2011: Attitude is a big one for me. I'm a firm believer in having a positive attitude while on the job. There are millions of people who are unhappy with their jobs, which is unfortunate, but that is no reason to be rude. It's important that whatever you do, you give 100% with a smile, and if not, give as much as you can, but still smile. Your attitude reflects heavily on others.
      • May 5 2011: "There are millions of people who are unhappy with their jobs, which is unfortunate, but that is no reason to be rude. "

        That seems like a great reason to be rude....
      • May 11 2011: I feel that attitude is, for most people, heavily dependent on their working environment. When a company is so focused on profit that they ignore the people who help them earn it, employees often feel like nothing more than a replaceable cog in the machine rather than people. Just like being treated like a number or moneybag hurts people's experience of flying, so too is the serving experience hurt by ignoring the humanity of employees.

        I think that an important part of improving the attitude of those working in the airline industry is making them feel like an important part of the company and of the experience of flying. I've flown with WestJet in Canada several times, and I've found the attitude of the employees to be much better than most airlines I've dealt with. I think this is because WestJet puts a priority on their employees by making them feel like an important part of the organization. This approach works anywhere. If your employees are happy, your customers will be too. You cannot expect to grow great crops with bad soil.

        I feel that this has to be the foundation of any changes in the flying experience. Just as we're all discussing ways to improve the experience of flying, I feel that this kind of discussion should be an integral part of the way airlines relate to their customers as well as their employees.

        Make people feel like they matter and they will help you.

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