On Flying

The Toolkit of Tactics That Guide Passenger Perception

Ongoing Work, 2019-

There was once a time before flying became ordinary. 

Consider Icarus, pasting those sticky wings on, / testing that strange little tug at his shoulder blade, / and think of that first flawless moment over the lawn… Admire his wings!” – Anne Sexton

This yearning for flight is a familiar, universal human longing – but one could be forgiven for forgetting that. Flying became mundane at some point, both historically and personally; historically, as airplane travel became much more accessible as a mode of transportation, and personally, as we outgrow our individual childhood dreams of flying. Our cultural perception of air travel is far more ambivalent today, tinged with unease and anxiety. No longer do we begin with “Consider Icarus,” but rather we ask “is the air travel experience inherently unpleasant?”

The Responsive Environments and Artifacts Lab (REAL) is interested in describing and quantifying the effects of different architectural and physical elements on the passenger experience, and in analyzing the habits and rituals that people form to respond to these design decisions. In this book, we catalog each artifact that passengers interact with during air travel to understand 1) what are the driving factors of their design, and 2) how passengers experience it, and 3) whether a mismatch happens. These are interspersed with explorations of key themes and phenomena experienced by the passengers. Each entry includes relevant studies, published research, and experiments by others, and is meant as an starting point for further exploration by interested designers.

It is a catalog of the toolkit of tactics deployed by airports and airlines to guide passengers, in order to rethink how to design the human experience of air travel.  

Research Team: Allen Sayegh, Humbi Song, Zach Seibold, Isa He, Oliver Luo, Jan Kwan

Laboratory for Design Technologies

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