But sometimes, it’s the little things that make a flight enjoyable rather than boring, comfortable rather than painful – and customers notice them.
Things like the seat-back coat hooks on every Finnair plane, which mean that winter passengers can hang their coat instead of having to take up valuable overhead bin space or wedge it wetly underneath their feet.
By contrast, cool air vents are a particular blessing in hot, humid climates, and passengers like Australian app developer Christopher Neugebauer appreciate the option. “The lack of these on 777s (particularly on Asian-based carriers who like setting the ambient temperature to resemble their hometown’s) can be infuriating.”
Frequent travellers – cash cows for airlines – often place a price premium on seats designed for a wide range of passenger heights.
“As someone under 5’2″ (157 cm), I love the footrest because my feet don’t touch the floor without it,” says New Jersey-based Angelina Aucello, who blogs as ‘Just Another Points Traveler’. “So I often have to strategically jam my feet inside the armrests of the aisle in front of me to avoid uncomfortable lower back pain.”
Christopher Neugebauer agrees about footrests, with a caveat: “When one is not there, I wish that there were one there. When one is there, I wish that it were padded.”
But it’s not just about thoughtful hard product design. Take Air New Zealand’s traditional “lollies” (hard candy to Americans, or boiled sweets to the British), handed out before landing by the cabin crew – often with the assistance of adorable young passenger helpers.
A self-described “beleaguered coach traveller”, US midwest-based Emily Abouhalkah appreciates when international airlines keep announcements short.
“For any flight using more than two languages, I really appreciate it when announcements are cut down to just-the-basics/need-to-know, without all the frilly “hi how are you”. When I’m traveling into or from Lebanon, for example, I have to hear announcements in French, English, and Arabic, and they go on forever,” says the multilingual Abouhalkah.
“I’m sure it’s annoying to travelers who only understand one of the languages to have to hear the rest, but it’s even worse if you understand all of them and have to listen to someone say the same thing to you three or even four times,” she concludes.
Melbourne, Australia-based Jessica Demmer-Knight spent seven months in a long-distance relationship, and for her it’s all about the IFE: “What I really enjoy on flights is the entertainment systems. Ot’s a great chance to catch up on all the films I miss in theatre.”
But Demmer-Knight echoes Emily Abouhalkah’s bugbear, saying airlines need to get out of the way and just let her watch a movie.
“On my recent Melbourne-Auckland flight on Emirates’ A380, the entertainment systems were faulty and had to keep being reset. They then played advertisements that overrode whatever I was doing on my set, then played the longest and most boring safety videos I’ve ever seen, in Arabic with English subtitles, and again in English.”
(Demmer-Knight prefers her hometown airline’s videos: “Air New Zealand’s safety videos are always great. They are quick, funny and I think they’re a great introduction to the Kiwi sense of humour for overseas visitors.”)
On Demmer-Knight’s Melbourne flight, “there were then more adverts for shopping in the air. Then, 40 minutes before we landed we had our headphones taken off us — so frustrating because I only managed to watch one 90 minute film and one 20 minute episode of a BBC documentary series on a 4 hour flight.”
New York-based digital marketer Caroline McCarthy is a Star Alliance ‘Gold’ member who flies nearly every week, and she’d like more inventive beverages.
“I’m a craft beer fan and I wish airlines would get more creative with their drink selections.”
McCarthy cites Virgin America’s 21st Amendment and Anchor Steam beers as good choices, but she reluctantly switched to a competitor for frequent flyer program reasons.
“I wish I still flew Virgin, to be honest,” McCarthy quips, “but once I drank the Star Alliance koolaid I was hooked — I’ll put up with United for the sweet, sweet promise of Lufthansa compatibility. Even though VX now has a “real” loyalty program and compatibility across other Virgin airlines, direct flight selection out of NYC is still terrible.”
The little things may be important – but it’s important to get the big stuff right too.