EXPO in Media: Connectivity & APEX Passenger Survey Dominate Headlines


In the weeks since our latest annual APEX/IFSA EXPO, held this year in sunny Anaheim, CA, we’ve been keeping our eye on some of the news around the event.

Here’s some nuggets of insight from key media around the world:

The LA Times was impressed with innovations in how compromises are being made between embedded seat-back systems and the demand for BYOD compatibility. After noting this dichotomy at the APEX/IFSA EXPO, writer Hugo Martin honed in on the SmartTray as a means to bridge the gap:

Pajic’s invention, the SmartTray, has built-in clamps and grooves to clasp the devices, making it easier for passengers to use them to read, play games and watch movies and television shows. The SmartTray is already in use on Asia Atlantic Airlines, and Pajic expects to get major U.S. airlines interested in his invention.

The tray table can even hold a tablet or smartphone when the table is in the upright position.

Photo: Los Angeles Times
Photo: Los Angeles Times

Following the release our first Passenger Survey at EXPO this year, Quartz reported on the survey’s findings, with a focus on gender and cultural differences:

In terms of improvements that travelers would like to see, the biggest demand overall relates to seat comfort and connectivity. But here, too, APEX observed variations in responses by gender and nationality. Women, for example, were more likely to advocate for improvements to airplane bathrooms, while men were more interested in seeing an option for a quiet cabin.

Photo: 2014  APEX Passenger Survey
Photo: 2014 APEX Passenger Survey

The Daily Mail elaborated on the travel anxieties experienced among men and women:

A study from the Airline Passenger Experience Foundation (APEX) analysed the things that passengers worry about the most while travelling and it revealed that men and women have conflicting priorities or fears before a flight.

Travel Daily News Network observed a key trend at EXPO where airlines who have made an investment in onboard connectivity were the clear winners among global passengers:

“It is obvious that the Internet and mobile phones are an integral part of everyday life and will become increasingly so. Naturally, the best airlines need to provide inflight connectivity,” said Ian Dawkins, CEO of OnAir. “Inflight connectivity has superseded the traditional model of inflight entertainment and must be integrated into airline’s entertainment strategy to meet the demands of today’s passengers.”

Australian Business Traveler looked to Airbus and their new pivoting overhead storage bins, first announced at the EXPO, as the way of the future for passengers and their plethora of carry-ons:

While the new Airbus bins bring only a 10% increase in volume over the current A320 lockers, their shape and design allows for up to 60% more luggage space in practice – providing ample room to load bags in on their side, rather than loading them flat and having ‘wasted space’ above.

Photo: Airbus

Photo: Airbus

Author Chris Chamberlin also noted that “… carry-on baggage [is] a potential cause of flight delays, normally resulting from inadequate room in the cabin to store every bag on full flights.”

The team over at Sparksheet was on-site at EXPO talking with industry leaders from Gogo, JetBlue Airways, Paramount and more.

“Everybody is trying to come out with some sort of wireless in-flight entertainment offering. Clearly everyone is seeing it as an ante now. So whether or not it’s going to replace embedded or whether it’s going to be an extension, it’s going to be almost mandatory for every airline,”

said Ash Eldifrawi, CCO of Gogo during his EXPO podcast session with Sparksheet. The podcasts were a hit among attendees:



The Buzz Around BLAH Airlines

Photo: BLAH Airlines

The media is buzzing with news around Virgin America’s marketing spoof, BLAH Airlines, a fabricated airline with a very elaborate website which includes a live chat feature with a helpful representative named Sheri.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 12.16.35 PM

Virgin also launched a 6-hour-long campaign video yesterday entitled “Have you been flying BLAH airlines?” which, the last time we checked, had over 100,000 views on YouTube. The campaign is meant to poke fun at no-frills competitors and the known frustrations experienced by travelers on those airlines.

The APEX media team discovered the airline via Twitter yesterday when a colleague joked about the airline being an APEX member.

This was followed by minutes (OK maybe more…) spent reading and giggling through the BLAH Airlines Twitter feed. We can only imagine their APEX EXPO booth setup in Portland next year, showcasing the latest in their “aircrafts with windows” or their Crystal Cabin Award nomination for innovations in airline seats, which “include armrests” and “fit most legs.”

Virgin wouldn’t be the first airline to come up with the idea of a fake airline, though. In 2003, Alaska Airlines launched SkyHigh Airlines, whose focus was on “cutting fares” and not the customer. The site advertised the airline’s many slogans including “a commitment to mediocrity,” or “saving you money at a price,” and our personal favorite “you all look like ants from here.” With SkyHigh, you could fly to exciting destinations such as Smeltertown, Texas or Middletown, Delaware…”Hi, I’m in Delaware.” Within days, the website reached 70,000 unique visitors, and that was back in 2003.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 2.43.54 PM

Photo: SkyHigh Airlines

Some airlines have taken a less controversial approach to fake campaigns. In September, KLM launched a video featuring a “lost and found” dog who sniffed out forgotten items on airplanes in order to return them to passengers before they left the terminal . A statement made by a KLM spokesperson later revealed that “the dog [was] purely used to symbolize the active way in which the team will search for owners and unite them with their lost possessions.” Hearts were crushed when they found out the KLM dog wasn’t an actual KLM team member (or at least ours were!)

Given the popularity of the campaigns it’s not surprising that similar spoof websites, with no affiliation to an airline, have popped up, such as flymallard.com (Mallard Air). We stumbled across the website when googling “funny airline safety videos” and discovered Canadian electro-funk duo Chromeo were featured in their in-flight safety video. With another google search, we quickly learned that the airline and was a stunt set up by comedy video website Funny or Die and again, hearts sunk. But that hasn’t stopped the APEX media team from religiously following their Twitter account.

But there’s a reason these kinds of marketing initiatives create buzz. Beyond the fact that it’s in-your-face type satire, the humor is based on an exaggerated version of reality. It strikes a nerve with travelers and, as a result, they’re more likely to share the content and increase it’s virality. But in the case of Virgin America, the video depicts frustrations experienced across all airlines (chair-kicking toddlers for example) and so, although their campaign has got people talking, we’ll have to wait and see if it actually plays out in their favor.

Honorable Mentions

Derrie-Air: A faux airline created by The Philadelphia Inquirer, a local newspaper who wanted to fake out their readers.

Oceanic Airlines & Oceanic Airways: Names of fictional airlines often used in TV and film, well known for it’s appearance in the hit TV-series Lost.

TnT Airlines: A too-good-to-not-include parody of in-flight safety videos.

Minimalist Maps

In 1933, Henry Charles Beck (known by most as Harry Beck) revolutionized cartographic aesthetics with his minimalist, electric-circuit-inspired rendering of the London Tube, a style that he referred to as “the diagram.” Beck’s map ignored everything above the tunnels except for the Thames River, based on the idea that unnecessary topographical features impeded the map’s legibility.

Shortly after, in 1936, designer László Moholy-Nagy produced the “Imperial Airways Map of Empire & European Air Routes,” evidently inspired by Beck’s unprecedented abstract style. Several other designers followed suit, producing uncluttered linear route maps for TAP Portugal, Canadian Pacific Airlines, Czech Airlines, Sudan Airlines and many others – setting Beck’s minimalism as the standard for airline route maps for several decades. Below are some of the APEX media team’s favorites.

Canadian Pacific Airlines circa 1978. (Max Roberts)

Terri, Editor: This old airline ad reminds me of CP Rail, and if not for the typical curved flight route lines this map could easily be mistaken for a vintage train map. I love the terminology of “gateways” to various destinations, and of course the scale is so far off it’s amusing.

National Airlines circa 1971 (Classic Film, Flickr)

National Airlines circa 1971 (Classic Film, Flickr)

Katie, Assistant Editor: Admittedly, part of the reason I like this map has more to do with the sassy and bold-faced copy, but I like the way this map gets straight to the point.

Al, Publisher: I like National. Less for the map and more for one of the coolest airline logos ever.

Malaysia Airlines,1982 (Caribb Flickr)

Nicolas, Art Director: Simple lines, good font and very good use of color.

Czech Airlines, 1982. (Caribb/Flickr)

Eva, Designer : My favorite is the Czech Airlines, 1982  map. Timeless, clearly and functionally designed.


Japan Airlines, circa 1990s (Permaculture)

Japan Airlines, circa 1990s (Permaculture)

Jessica, Community Manager: This JAL route map is the essence of minimalist. The red and white represents the branding of the airline and I appreciate the informative blurb that comes with it. And who needs a world map on a route map anyways?

F is for Flying Phobias

In the ‘Journey’ issue, we track a few of the phobias travelers may face and the innovative approaches airlines and airports have been taking in helping their customers overcome them. Here is our original published list, plus a few more… 

AviophobiaAviophobia: Fear of being in an airplane or other flying vehicles.

Aviophobiacs can learn to combat this fear by enrolling in fear of flying courses offered by airports and airlines like Virgin Atlantic, easyJet and Turkish Airlines. If a diploma from one of these courses isn’t enough, British Airways’ “Slow TV” – seven-hour-long footage of a scenic train ride – helps the fearful imagine themselves in a grounded locomotive.

Autodysomophobia: Fear that one has a vile odor.

Those whose olfactory senses tingle out of fear that they may be emitting vile odors cabin-wide, can skip dousing themselves in cologne and opt to fly on airlines that have gotten into scent branding, including Singapore Airlines, Qantas Airways or British Airways. As the old adage goes, the noes knows.

CathisophobiaCathisophobia: Fear of sitting.

At the airport, chair-bound travelers can stay on their feet – or at least try to – by surfing in Munich Airport’s wave pool, skating in the Ice Forest at Incheon International, or downward dogging through a yoga session at Helsinki, San Francisco, or London Heathrow airports.

Monophobia: Fear of being alone of left to one’s self.

The increasing popularity of airline social programs means that one doesn’t have to be the loneliest number anymore for the lone travelers among us. Seat-to-seat messenger, now found on many airlines, or initiatives like South African Airways’ Social-Check-In can help monophobes find and make friends for the plane ride.

Ataxiophobia: Fear of not being able to use your muscles properly.

Airports like SFO, DFW, and HEL, have yoga rooms that let ataxiophobics pre-stretch before their flights, but for passengers whose zen and namaste feelings wear off as soon as they enter the cabin confines, carriers like Vietnam Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and Air New Zealand offer their travelers tips on how to stay limber in-flight.

MacrophobiaMacrophobia: Fear of prolonged waiting.

Automated kiosks for check-in and bag-tagging, and other self-services provided by IATA’s Fast Travel program help passengers avoid lengthy cues landside. Arriving passengers can sign up in advance for Trusted Traveler programs to fast-track border crossing. For extreme macrophobiacs, apps like WhatsBusy help the non-lingering sort avoid lengthy wait times around the airport.

Econophobia: Fear of flying economy

While for some econophobia represents a more wide-reaching fear of economics, for others like Johnny Jet, it refers to an “abnormal fear of flying in economy on commercial airlines.” For those with classist-related anxieties, there’s really only one option: upgrade! Premium cabins are a popular antidote, available on many airlines.

SomniphobiaSomniphobia: Fear of falling asleep.

Free amenity sleep kits provided by airlines like JetBlue, LAN and Cathay Pacific equip those wary of public weariness with the tools they need – eyeshades, earplugs – to doze off a little more comfortably in economy. In-flight entertainment aids include Air New Zealand’s video “Delta,” which features low frequency sound waves present during deep sleep, or Delta Air Lines’ Radio Delta white noise channel.

Dispsosphobia: Fear of getting rid of, or losing things.

Don’t let your baggage become emotional baggage. Affix belongings with tracker tags (like HomingPIN, ReboundTAG, or SuperSmartTag), use Air France-KLM’s permanent eTag (equipped with GMS, GPS and Bluetooth technology) or quell anxieties further by tracking your items along the journey on smartphone apps provided by airlines like Delta and British Airways.

NomophobiaNomophobia: Fear of losing cell phone reception.

With Wi-Fi in the sky becoming commonplace, the future looks bright for nomophobiacs. The FAA’s 2013 ruling on the allowance of gate-to-gate device use means that nomophobes can stay connected, and the bring-your-own device in-flight entertainment trend is making “airplane mode” a thing of the past.

Nephophobia: Fear of clouds.

Pick a window seat so you can keep the window shade down at all times. If that’s not possible or just having the window shade open during takeoffs and landings is enough to cloud your in-flight experience, bring or buy eyeshades – unless you’re flyingLAN Airlines or others where they give them out for free in their amenity kits.

Airlines Talk Shop at Skift Global Forum

The airline industry was well represented at Skift Global Forum with top executives from American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and JetBlue, along with Fred Reid, founding CEO of Virgin America and seat design specialist Ben Orson of JPA Design Studio. Each brought unique insights to the stage, and discussion moderator, Henry Harteveldt, tactfully lead post-presentation conversation.

Keep it Simple

If we took away one thing from the talks lead by airline executives, keeping it simple, in all aspects of your business model, was a resounding theme. In his talk “Creating a Radically Guest-Centric Airline” Fred Reid, founding CEO of Virgin America, could’t stress the point enough. “Ask yourself: Does it have a cartoon-like simplicity?” said Reid in reference to customer-facing. According to Reid, airlines need to “make buying simple” eliminate duty-free and “take paper catalogue off the plane. Buy it all online and have it ready when you step off the plane.”


Fred Reid, Founding CEO, Virgin America

When it comes to airline branding, Southwest chief marketing officer, Kevin Krone had similar advice during his talk on “The Future of Airline Branding.” Southwest Airlines, having just undergone a major rebranding, tested 60 plus branding items and suggested that, at the end of the day, “simplify any chance you get.”


Kevin Krone, Chief Marketing Officer, Southwest Airlines

Listening to Customers

For Southwest Airlines, customer and employee input was imperative to the re-branding process. In total, Southwest surveyed 6000 people on their new design, and shared 450 slides with industry leaders. Now that the new look has officially been launched, the airline continues to seek customer opinion and may already be making a few changes based on preliminary feedback.

When it comes to customer feedback, nowhere else is the data more abundant than on social media. Jonathan Pierce, director of social at American Airlines, knows the difference social media can make and the airline has invested in a dedicated social team of 21 staff members and counting. “Our social customer service team goes through a six week training program, no exceptions,” explains Pierce. Currently, the airline manages approximately 240 tweets/hour and aims to respond to each tweet within a 15-minute window. Now that’s a dedication to customer service excellence!


Jonathan Pierce, Director of Social, American Airlines

The Bright Future of Economy

As much as we hear about the “grim state of economy”, airline industry experts at Skift Forum had some optimistic things to say about the future of Economy Class. Ben Orson, Managing Director at JPA Design, works with clients such as Singapore Airlines to create intelligently designed aircraft seating options and revealed that “airlines and passengers have more choice, with 12-15 tiers of seat designs now available.” Included in the new designs are fixed seat-back options, which allow the passenger to recline without disturbing.

And for airlines such as JetBlue, the focus has always been on Economy. “JetBlue was designed to be the best economy experience among all airlines,” states Marty St. George, senior VP of commercial strategy at JetBlue Airways. In St. George’s talk, he explained that JetBlue wouldn’t exist without the “mid-product customer,” answering yes to the discussion question: “Is there room for a new airline business model?”


Henry Harteveldt, industry analyst talking to Marty St. George, VP of Commercial Strategy, JetBlue Airways

And great value can come with great services. JetBlue was the first to put screens in the back of seats and the speed of their on-board Wi-Fi could put some legacy airlines to shame. “I get better broadband on our new wifi than I do at my house,” says St. George.