NONLINEAR. Pedro Álvarez-Tabío

Flying, traveling

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"Let's say you could wave a magic wand and have the perfect flying experience, what would that look like?"

Brian Chesky from Airbnb started one of the most interesting conversations I’ve seen lately on Twitter. A simple question led to an amazing discussion. It also hits right at home due to the fact that I’m up in the air while writing this post. With today’s technology – barring electric, supersonic airplanes or hyperloops – this can be reduced a substantial amount. It’s just a matter of putting together pieces that already exist.

The biggest pain point I see with traveling today is all what surrounds flying. Getting to the airport, checking in, going through security, waiting for boarding. What should be a one-and-a-half hours flight to San Diego will turn into more than 4 hours. I left my place at 7-ish, just to plan ahead in case there’s traffic or TSA is overwhelmed with people. I will get through the door in San Diego at almost midnight. I’d have wasted more than three hours of my life waiting in line or sitting on a chair.

boarding-gate

How can we reduce this overhead to something more manageable? I think it boils down to the basics of transportation: you want to get from A to B, and sometimes you’re looking for a B – a place to stay. My ideal flight experience would be something like what comes next.

Before the flight

  • You book your stay from day X to day Y, also selecting housing if needed. You specify if you’re checking luggage. You get a flight that closes boarding gates at time time_boarding_closed.

  • The system calculates the time to get to the terminal with a error-tolerant margin, tolerance_factor.

  • When you get to the terminal, you can drop your luggage by just scanning your phone at an easy-to-use machine. Possible KPI: waiting time for using the machine should be <1 minute, usage of machine should be <30 secs.

  • At the security checkpoint, a partnership with a service like Clear would make a great difference. You get to skip the line almost completely. The service should obsessively pursue dopamine rushes, that primal instinct that gets triggered while cutting the line and feeling privileged.

  • The system would then calculate estimated walking time to the gate based on indoor maps of the airport. A drawback to this is it might be stressful not to have time to wander around the terminal. I have zero problems with that, but can imagine someone who would. Plus duty free stores would hate it. Maybe tweaking the tolerance_factor depending on user’s tastes would be a good idea.

  • Once at the gate, boarding will start from the back to the front of the plane. However, I think group-based boarding works OK – don’t feel strongly against it and allows for business class offerings. Southwest-style open seating and its perverse incentives, though – no way.

point_A_arrival_time = time_boarding_closed - (time_to_walk_to_boarding gate - time_through_security - time_to_walk_to_security - time_drop_off_luggage - ETA_with_traffic_to_departures) * tolerance_factor  

In-flight experience

atomic-era

  • FREE WIFI. WOULDN’T THIS BE AMAZING?! People with WiFi are entertained people. Entertained people are happy people. Happy people will use your service again and again. Also, movies etc. directly accessible from a device. Get rid of and save some money on those crummy touchscreens that work 50% of the time.

  • Charge for food/drinks, so people only consume whatever they like. One of the biggest issues with long-haul flights is that many people feel they're being forcefully fed, crammed on a tiny space and eating every few hours.

  • That said, the food and drinks in offering should be top notch. Business class or above quality, with good presentation. Instagram-picture-worthy from your WiFi-enabled phone good.

  • Something stupid but fun: offer a champagne/sparkling apple juice glass at the beginning, while performing the security overview. Say "Cheers!” at the end of it, so everyone toasts. Get the flight started on a high note, evoke those idealized atomic-era flights.

After the flight

  • Have a ride-share wait for the customer at the arrival terminal. Bring them to the housing they’ve selected in the app if they have. Your work is done and the user will remember the quality of the experience. They won’t use any other service.

airbnb-house

Around the experience

  • Make it easy on the user to correct unforeseen events through an easy-to-use app. I’m thinking about rebookings, canceled, delayed or overbooked flights. There’s nothing I hated more than waiting half an hour in line for my flight to be rebooked after a cancellation, just to find out that the alternative ran out of seats right on my face. I had to wait almost 24 hours for the following one.

  • Do not appear on price aggregators like Kayak or Google Flights. I must admit I'm a heavy user, like many people are, but they basically commoditize air travel. Build (or have) a brand strong enough so you’re the Amazon of air travel – people go to you first, without thinking about alternatives.

Conclusions

I genuinely believe that moving up the value chain by integrating air travel into a wider experience can finally make a big player stand out and, for the first time in ages, make it a profitable venture. I do think Airbnb is in a unique position to have a say on all of this – Brian Chesky’s tweet is anything but unintentional. I love Airbnb’s mission and am very curious on what they’re planning to release.

To whoever’s got to the end of this – there’s your startup idea right there. Rush for it or Airbnb will do it!