Airline Carry-on Baggage
I was working with a design team at an airline. The airline was experiencing low on-time departure metrics. The stakeholders assumed that if they reduced the number of carry-on bags, people would get settled in their seats faster, and then on-time departure metrics would rise. These stakeholders also assumed that on-time departure was a metric that was important to the different thinking-styles of passengers. But they weren’t aware that they held these assumptions.
The stakeholders tasked the design team with designing a way to get more people to check their luggage rather than carry it on. So the team decided to begin with research. Existing quantitative data at the airline suggested that men were checking fewer bags than women, which dangerously caused managers to start considering binary gender-based solutions. The other danger at the airline was that employees up and down the ranks thought of passengers as whiny, manipulative, and too privileged. There was dehumanization in employee behavior and thinking. I set out to cut this out of their approach and put some more supportive ideas in place.
I helped the team define a study to understand what went through people’s minds the last few times they took bags to the airport. We did listening sessions to carefully collect other perspectives. It took us a month (10 hours a week per each of five researchers) to collect and analyze this qualitative data. We used a two-step analysis method rather than risk curating the patterns according to our own unconscious bias. And guess what? The results had nothing to do with gender. Here are the four thinking-style patterns we found in the patterns of our qualitative data.
- Never Again: I carried on my bag because I worry it will be lost if I checked it; I assume my checked bag will be thrashed again; I wonder what the white powder was on my bag those last two times.
- My Precious: I carried on my carefully calibrated medical device because putting it through checked baggage will surely mess up the calibrations; I make sure my guitar is not damaged in baggage; I carry on my computer & camera so they are not stolen.
- Had To: I checked my bag because I bought special beer in Belgium to bring home to my friends; I check my bulky gift, my long conference poster, my ski gear that won’t fit in the overhead bin.
- Hassle Drag: I check my bag because I don’t want to roll it through connecting airports; I have my kids with me and need my hands free; We are planning to eat in an airport restaurant and I don’t want the bag underfoot; Last time I realized that picking up the checked bag only adds 5 minutes.
These four thinking styles gave us deeper insight into what was truly happening. It also reminded us that the approaches were contextually dependent, so any one person may change their thinking style regarding bags from flight to flight. That’s an important point when it comes to creating baggage services that vary in tone and support for the various thinking styles.
The airline started out with the instinct to be punitive. They figured the stubborn passengers who were delaying the on-time departures needed to be forced into a new behavior. They had wanted to make extra charges for baggage brought on board, paying special attention to the demographics that tended to bring bags on board. But correlation of the quantitative data turned out not to be the cause of behavior. Instead, these thinking styles helped the design team take the airline in new, more human directions.
Idea 1: All the Amazing Precious Things We’ve Carried in Our Overhead Bins
The team can write stories as interest pieces about some fabulous real stories. Each story can feature one passenger and their precious carry-on piece. They are written in a tone that is aimed at the My Precious thinking style, but will be of interest to the others. The stories celebrate the passenger and their item, and will help readers associate the overhead bins with precious items. The stories also start to shift the thinking of the airline employees.
Idea 2: Lost Baggage Personal Buyer
In the case of lost baggage, the team might create a new service that helps passengers avoid the Never Again mindset. There are several scenarios which this service can cover, including the situation where the passenger does not have time to get supplies and clothes to cover the days before they receive their luggage. The service would find stores close to where a passenger is staying to buy replacement items with pre-arranged store vouchers. In foreign cities, the service could even provide videos made in the local language to help passengers interact with store clerks to use the voucher and obtain items. They could provide a personal buyer service for people who have no time in their schedules to visit stores, especially for the higher-paying passenger and super-frequent fliers they wish to support.
Idea 3: Packing & Entering: Tips for Your Thinking Style
Here’s where we can create nuanced tips that may help people about to take a trip, especially in certain contexts like going to specific countries or traveling to locations experiencing certain weather. Considering that each person may be in a different thinking style for each trip, the team makes a set of four tones and intentions and pairs them with different contexts. The pairs of concepts combine to help people decide what to bring, or where to put a winter coat. (Onboard? Not if you’re landing at a regional airport with no jetway!) The tips cover how to parcel out baggage upon entering the airport. It’s directional and contextual. Any one human might be a “My Precious” on one flight, bringing a family heirloom to a newly married couple, and a “Hassle Drag” on the way home.
(These ideas are thanks to a team in my online course.)
The design team showed that on-time departure was correlated but not caused by the number of bags put in the overhead. The cause was related to other things (familiarity with the boarding process; how over-sold the flight was; the ratio of overhead space per passenger) they found in research. They not only managed to help the airline adjust the true causes of delays with other design approaches, but also helped passengers and airline employees see each other in a more human perspective.