Aviation geeks, otherwise known as “avgeeks”, are a special kind of air traveller. They are happiest when airborne even if the passenger experience on board isn’t stellar. They can rattle off the differences between a Boeing 737-300 and a -700 or give you a blow-by-blow account of the 1983 Gimli Glider event. They are bothered by inconsistencies in movies and television shows, such as when one type of aircraft is shown but then the footage cuts to a cabin interior that clearly belongs to a different aircraft.
Avgeeks are collectors, often keeping meticulous records of their flights by logging the date, airline, origin and destination. They may even go so far as to record details such as the aircraft registration, or “tail number”, seat number and distance flown. They collect airline memorabilia, such as timetables, playing cards, advertisements, flatware, silverware, uniforms, and of course model planes, especially from airlines from bygone eras like PanAm, Braniff and TWA.
Willing to go great lengths to satisfy their aviation addiction, avgeeks eagerly purchase tickets on inaugural flights for new aircraft types, new airlines or new destinations. Being the first to do so earns him or her extra credibility amongst their avgeek peers. I recently surveyed self-proclaimed avgeeks, and over 80 per cent of 56 respondents said they had travelled at least 50 miles from their home for an “avgeek experience” such as an air show, museum visit, or assembly factory tour. Many avgeeks can be found near the approach path of incoming flights, “plane spotting” with cameras in hand.
Outside of the Internet and social media, where can one find a group of people with such a shared passion for aviation? For one day in February the answer was the 2012 Aviation Geek Fest at Paine Field. Sponsored by Boeing and the Future of Flight Museum, and hosted by popular “Airline Reporter” David Parker Brown, the event drew avgeeks from all over North America.
Activities included a tour of the factory where Boeing’s widebodies are built. Participants donned safety goggles and were treated to an in-depth tour along each assembly line, normally off limits to the public.
On the 787 final assembly line, few could resist reaching up to touch the nose of a United Airlines 787, simply because it was in their reach. Another popular activity was the tour of Boeing’s Dreamliner Gallery, where airlines choose the interior design elements of their 787 twinjets. Essentially, the facility serves as a walk-through catalogue of seats, galley fixtures and inflight entertainment options. Once an airline chooses its interiors, it can preview the result in a mock-up cabin.
The event’s attention was clearly toward the Boeing 787, but the 50 parked, engineless Dreamliners cast a shadow over the event on that cool, wintry day. But this is a group whose enthusiasm for air travel cannot be dampened, and whose eagerness to catch that first glimpse of a new bird is palatable.
For instance, the night before this year’s Aviation Geek Fest, three attendees went to Boeing’s Renton facility to see if Southwest Airlines’ first 737-800 was viewable. After a walk through a muddy field, they were rewarded with a great view of the aircraft by the facility’s fence. The aircraft’s cabin is distinguished by the fact that Southwest has ordered the Boeing Sky Interior and is being delivered factory-fit with its new “Evolve” interior.
In my survey of self-proclaimed avgeeks, over 82 per cent of respondents said they “love to fly, any chance they get.” Avgeeks are often exposed to aviation at an early age, through various avenues such as taking a first flight, living near an airport, receiving model planes as gifts, visiting a museum or air show and having a family member working in aviation. One notable response said, “My first flight was as a child flying on Singapore Airlines from Manila to Singapore. I loved looking down and [saw] the world become smaller. I knew from that moment how much I loved aviation.”
Airlines would be smart to tend to the curiosity of their youngest customers – a small step that could form a life-long loyal customer or perhaps a future employee.
About 70 per cent of those surveyed agreed that avgeeks are likely to be more tolerant of air travel hassles such as security lines, simply because they love to fly. The top three areas identified by avgeeks as travel hassles included poor customer service by airline personnel, unfavourable seating (such as a middle seat or short seat pitch), and ancillary fees (such as baggage fees or reservation changes).
In another survey question, a remarkable 78.6 per cent of respondents revealed they have chosen a commercial flight based on the type of aircraft serving the route. And in a follow-up question, 71.4 per cent said they prefer to fly on widebody aircraft, whereas only 8.9 per cent prefer regional jets.
Once on board, most avgeeks prefer to use digital media (music, movies or TV) on the aircraft’s inflight entertainment system or their own digital device brought from home. Other popular answers included reading, taking photos through the window, and using the Internet when available.
So why should airlines care about avgeeks? Their numbers are growing. More and more people are becoming true aviation lovers. They are an airline’s best friend in terms of revenue and marketing, and should be welcomed as such.