3 Outlandish Ideas To Improve Air Travel, From The Designers Of Beats By Dre

From personal travel pods to an airplane bento box, here are three off-the-wall concepts for air travel from Ammunition.

As a part of our Terminal Velocity series, we asked several designers how they would improve upon the experience of traveling. San Francisco-based product design firm Ammunition often works with big brands such Adobe, Polaroid, Barnes&Noble and Williams-Sonoma. But after exploring the luggage space while designing Octovo, a line of traveler-friendly wallets and bags, Ammunition partner Matt Rolandson found himself mulling over the problem of air travel. Here, Rolandson tells Co.Design associate editor Margaret Rhodes what he and his firm cooked up. —Eds

A big theme for the Octovo project was this idea: What is travel all about? The point should be celebrating the idea of travel and the sheer enjoyment of it. When compared to the actual day-to-day perceptions of the travel experience, though, we see a big difference. The norm in air travel is coach and it’s not the most empowering experience. From an accessories point of view, and a space point of view, it’s a confining and disempowering. Here, we offer some concepts that could impart a sense of empowerment to people when they travel.

Personal Pod

One idea is about giving the whole experience the finger. With the pod, you’re saying this is me, this is my space and I paid for it—and I don’t want to deal with any of you. It’s just a tent. Flying can be so painful from a sensory perspective. Maybe by enclosing yourself in your own piece of architecture that you can bring aboard the airplane, you can give yourself a sense of place that you feel some control over.

This is definitely a concept creation. I’m not going to look anyone in the face and recommend they wrap themselves in a tent. But for the purpose of making a statement, it’s basically a protest design. People shut out the rest of the airplane. It’s the coach shantytown version of the first class pods that airlines like Cathay are getting.

We’re interested in this because it’s absurd and critical. It’s saying, "Flying is so bad I’d rather put myself in a tent than deal with your bullshit. We’re declaring our own nation state."

It's a stupid idea! But it’s not really an idea, it’s a statement.

Travel Bento

Most of us who travel in coach pass through first class, and the message is: "Hey it could be really great, but it’s not going to be, so good luck." It doesn’t set a great tone. We’re thinking of simple things people could do to assert a level of dignity. It’s about bringing your own first class experience into the dining part of traveling on an airplane. The idea for this is to complement some of the more thoughtful things that airlines are doing around food.

They’re realizing that there’s a need and market gap to provide amenities on the ground that people can take on the plane. As a practical matter, people are bringing their food with them already. This kit is about making a bit of theater around the dining ritual in coach.

We want it be this very minimal kit that’s a table top service. It will have a tablecloth, napkin, a glass for water, and a glass for another drink. There will be plates where you place your food, so even if you have a sandwich and some chips, you could change it in a way that seems more elevated.

Storytelling Through Augmented Reality

The third variation on this has to do with the strange, abstract, isolated feeling people have while they’re up in the air. The air is awkward—you’re physically constrained in the plane and there’s a disconnected feeling. What’s ironic is that people are often mentally hibernating during a flight, but it’s pretty extraordinary. You’re several miles above Earth, and underneath there’s interesting stuff. So how can we provide a tool to show the geography? What are the stories below? What’s happening there now?

Those little progress maps in the in-flight entertainment system are essentially glorified progress bars. It just tells us how long we have until it ends. But there’s an opportunity to get to another layer of data. We could provide the passenger with the experience of what’s happening on the ground and feed their curiosity.

On a flight a captain will come on and say, "If you’re seated on the left hand side of the place you’ll see we’re passing over the Grand Canyon." There’s an amazing world down there.

I would absolutely recommend that this product piggyback on top of the technology that people already carry with them—like phones and tablets. Flyers can gaze out the window and then see the overlay of the cool stuff going on geographically down below. It’s trying to make the trip a little more captivating.

*Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article mistakenly said Ammunition designed the Nike Fuelband.

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  • There is a "hoodie/pillow" for sale now that resembles Mr. Rolandson's "personal pod" concept. I have a feeling that airline flight attendants may legitimately be concerned about potential security challenges/threats in an airplane full of "podded" passengers. The "bento box" idea is not new; similar products are available to buy now through travel-focused retailers such as Flight001. I've been tempted to buy one but have held off primarily because I'm never clear about where I'll be able to clean/wash the dirty items. Delta's iPad app offers the ability to see where you're flying over, similar to the proposed augmented reality app.

  • Stephen Frost

    These are not exactly thinking out of the box ideas. There is a huge amount of 'wasted' space in cabins above us and above the walkway. How about a way to improve this usage? Could the seats themselves be less bulky and use thinner but better foam cushions? How about seat tables that are part of the seat rather than taking up 2 cms of uncomfortable space.

    Why do all the seats face forwards? In business class they often don't.

  • I wouldn't call these ideas 'outlandish', as the term has a sense of impossible to realise to it. The pod, with some improvements of course, would make air travel more comfortable for people. It creates private space: what I do when I sink into my book or watch a film. I love the augmented reality idea! Would that make the window seats more valuable so airlines could charge a higher price? See you in the skies! Jaap le Poole

  • Nothing drives me more crazy than when i get to my seat and the person next to me takes their shoes AND their socks off! Another thing that bothers me is when two passengers argue about seats leaning too far back. And finally I get very irritated seeing all the no smoking signs above every single seat when there are probably ten smokers on the entire plane, and who would be dumb enough to light up on a plane these days anyway???

    Can we not create a commonly used "The Social Rules of Flying on an Airplane" where everybody in the world understands what we can and can not do while flying? It just drives me nuts!!!!

  • Jacqueline Fabius

    i often bring a sleeping bag to cocoon myself in airplanes. it helps to control the fluctuating temperatures that they impose around the eating schedules, as well as the noise. the additional benefit is that the neighbor leaves you alone when you are in a cocoon. i think this pod is a great idea!

  • Stanley Manley

    Yup, airlines, like cable companies, can't live with em, can't live without em. And there is absolutely no incentive to make them better. Glad to see the Beats folks are on top of it though. Maybe the personal pod could be soundproof too!

  • Good article interesting designs, just another thing to remember, when the babies (s) MANY , think about a design for that. My latest experience, being horrible. 8 hours straight of crying babies is not ideal to coach. Revamp the design for mothers and that market ?????

  • I don't see why the Travel Pod couldn't work - a partition that fold out between seats, giving some privacy to passengers, and something for the person in the dreaded middle seat to lean on if they want to sleep.

  • Gary Mason

    I think you might be forgetting two very important things Paul.

    Number 1: most airline travelers are overweight. There's very little room for arms on arm rests, let alone a personal pup-tent.

    Number 2: travelers are typically on edge when they fly and already irritated with being crammed into a seat, after cramming their belongings into an overhead bin 50ft away. A fellow traveler with a personal tent to block out the masses so they can multi-task on their $800 tablet without interruption from the "average Joe" will be a neon sign that reads, "I'm stuck up, Please kick my ass."

    Not that I wouldn't want one from time-to-time. ;)

  • Stanley Manley

    So what, exactly, is wrong with being stuck up? Who says your fellow man is worth the consideration in the first place? My experience is people serve themselves first and the rest be damned.

    It makes me wonder when the CEO of AA, W. Douglas Parker, last flew coach.