Air rage is one of the latest topics trending, especially with the ability to video virtually any meltdown or inflight issue (or the pre-flight United fiasco). According to DeCelles and Norton in a recent article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “the increasing incidence of ‘air rage’ can be understood through the lens of inequality” with air rage events being related to the design of the airplane and the presence of first class cabins.
Air rage in the U.S. may be bucking the aforementioned trend, however. The FAA reported incidences of unruly passenger behavior have substantially decreased since 2013, and J.D. Powers recently published a study where airline customer satisfaction is up significantly.
So what is the latest Rage in the Air? Design.
Delta Airlines recently announced the introduction in late 2017 of 86 pieces of tableware produced by Alessi of Italy for premium travelers. The project has been two years in development and includes some designs specifically made for in-flight use. Chosen designs include those by notables including Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Patricia Urquiola, Humberto & Fernando Campana, Stefano Giovannoni, Miriam Mirri and Kristiina Lassus.
The Delta/Alessi project is a continuation of a long history of passenger focused design by airlines, ranging from interiors, such as the soon-to-be-missed Virgin America lighting to branded uniforms and tableware. Many of these items become prized by collectors -the end result of airborne clients being perhaps a little too fond of the branding. Virgin Atlantic capitalized on this with a plane shaped salt & pepper set labelled “Pinched from Virgin Atlantic,” available in First Class. The set was evidently discontinued due to too much theft, however (current eBay retail: $10-$15 USD).
Premium class travelers have always been prized by airlines. In the first half of the 20th Century flying was almost exclusively for the wealthy, and airlines would vie for attention through design, comfort, and customer service. Planes were small: a 1930s DC-1 would carry 18 passengers; a current Airbus A380 can hold 853 passengers. With the introduction of larger jets in the 1950s Flight Attendants became more important to the functioning on the airplane- not only for supervision in the event of an emergency but also to manage the needs of a larger amount of clients. Stewards or stewardesses became Brand Ambassadors for the passengers.
Initial dress for attendants was military style. In the 1960s Braniff Airlines had a notable overhaul of aircraft interior and uniforms. Dubbed ‘The End of the Plain Plane,” a focus was placed on clothing design by Emilio Pucci with branding and interiors by Alexander Girard. After Pucci came a long series of designers working for the competition including notable names such as Pierre Cardin, Bill Blass, and Ralph Lauren.
Everything changed with the deregulation of United States airlines in 1978. With deregulation came competition on routes and lowered pricing. With lowered pricing came a push towards more profitability with additional crowding and less perks, as well as fewer attendants- and a clear delineation between Economy and Premium classes. Including tableware.
The result: Air Rage.
Design and branding is still important, however, as evidenced by the Delta/Alessi project and the Air France/Eugeni Quittlet/Ipi project, among others.
Please sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight.