You may remember a time when air travel was considered a luxury with perks such as attentive service from flight attendants, occasional visits to the cockpit during flight, sumptuous meals served on china with real silverware, and souvenirs to keep the kids busy for even the shortest of flights.
Through de-regulation, economic roller-coasters, emergence of hub-and-spoke transportation models, airline mergers & acquisitions, and organized labour unrest, the mystique of air travel has been significantly diminished. You can pay a premium for business class travel to enjoy some of these privileges, but if you have ever been stuck on the tarmac at an airport for hours due to bad weather, congestion, mechanical problems or any of the myriad of other reasons, a comfortable seat and free booze does not address the resulting tedium and frustration.
9/11 (beyond its significant human and economic tragedies) further impacted this experience. Restrictions on liquids & gels as well as comprehensive security checks eliminated whatever little enjoyment could be gained from the experience.
The time may be right to apply lean principles to air travel – if the main objective is to transport passengers from point A to point B, and if the ability to deliver a pleasant experience is no longer economically sustainable, then we need to redefine the process itself.
I submit to you (in all seriousness) that this transformation might be the emergence of unconscious flight. Similar to the experience of space travelers in movies such as “Alien”, passengers on commercial flights would be sedated after they had checked in at the airport. They would then be wheeled on to the planes into which they would be stacked. At their destination, they would be revived and could proceed on their way.
Before you dismiss this concept, let’s examine the potential benefits:
- Less need for security staff at airports or on board flights. If the passengers are unconscious, they can’t take over the planes.
- Fewer flight attendants are required – a jumbo jet might only need one or two attendants to monitor the vitals of passengers and to administer additional sedatives if someone wakes up prematurely.
- Since passengers will be asleep and carry-on luggage is not required, airplanes could be modified to support a double or triple bunk bed configuration. This would increase the number of passengers that could be transported which in turn might reduce airport congestion or allow airlines to reduce their total number of flights.
- No need for airlines to provide the (increasingly) large number of dietary choices for long haul flights (Side note: when I was younger, I remember two dietary choices – normal or vegetarian) – if you are unconscious, you don’t need to eat.
- No need for airlines to carry fuel-guzzling weight such as:
- Entertainment systems
- Magazines & newspapers
- Personal lighting at seats
- Passengers would likely prefer this process – if a flight is delayed, you won’t know until you reach your destination. If a flight crashes, you’ll never know the fear of impending doom…
So what are obvious challenges with this approach?
- Sedating (and awakening) a passenger is not foolproof. Even in controlled hospital environments, patients occasionally either don’t go fully under or sometimes never wake up. However, with sufficient interest (and funding), this issue could be overcome.
- There is the issue of human bodily functions. I’ll let your imagination figure out creative ways to deal with that – if we put a man on the moon, this should be easy.
Think I’ve lost it? Drop me a note in ten or twenty years, and let’s see who was right!