What Role Do You See Design Playing in the Future of the Airline Business?

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Chris Rossi
Chris Rossi
Chris Rossi, VP-sales and marketing for North America, Virgin Atlantic airways

Design is vital [because] it gives airlines, and all companies, the opportunity to create points of differentiation, whether it's the hard-core physical product on the airplane or the service design or the lounge at the airport. The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses -- our airport lounges -- are an example of this. They are venues where we offer a great combination of service delivery as well as product. Passengers can enjoy beauty treatments and waterfalls in our lounges while utilizing the business services they need.

The Web site is very interesting from our view because a lot of travelers are going [online] to check in, order meals, get seat assignments. The typical buying process now is through travel agents or going online. As the research and buying process have evolved as people become more comfortable online, we added these functionalities. Our Web design provides convenience as well as confidence in the process. I talk quite a bit internally with my marketing team that we need to be easy to do business with. And if our Web site is not easy [for consumers to use] to transact business with us, that hinders us.

Our airline strives for creating design that is interesting and functional for passengers, as well as delivering on innovation and service. [For example], we have a brand new seat belt. The seat belt includes an airbag, and it was designed to allow the passenger to relax in the full recline position, even during takeoff. Seat belts are not interesting in and of themselves, but the benefits of a seat belt that allows you to go into full recline during takeoff are vital to our core business travelers.

A lot of marketers ask, "What can we create that's interesting through our lens?" It's only interesting if the passenger derives benefits from it. And that can be service delivery or the physical product. For us it's about productivity. Our passengers want to get from Point A to Point B, but they say, "Make it interesting for me. Make it an event." Obviously, design helps make it an event.

Joyce Rogge
Joyce Rogge
Joyce Rogge, senior VP-marketing, Southwest Airlines

We have historically been committed to design as an essential part of our branding. Back in the early days, we talked about our design as if it were an individual. While our exterior colors of our planes were cutting-edge when we started, over time, we changed the interior and the uniforms, but not the exterior, which is a very expensive endeavor. But on our 30th anniversary, we launched a new design called our Spirit fleet. We changed the exteriors on our planes, using the new colors called Canyon Blue and Saddle Tan.

[No] brand can make wholesale [design] changes without alienating their customer base. [For us], part of the reason is our customers end up having an emotional involvement with us ... and therefore, they have an emotional involvement with what we look like. Design is a manifestation of a brand's personality. We consider ourselves to be highly efficient, but we're also friendly and warm. We wanted that to come through, too, [in the design of the product].

Andrea Spiegel
Andrea Spiegel
Andrea Spiegel, VP-sales and marketing, JetBlue Airways

For us, good design is the key to great customer experience -- and the future of the airline industry ... most definitely rests on customer experience -- and finding ways to make air travel easier, more enjoyable and more human. In design, form should always follow function. From the very beginning we've aimed to create an experience and a look/feel that is fresh and stylish, while being timeless and accessible for all.

Our Web site, jetblue.com, where more than 80% of our customers purchase flights, is clean and straightforward and [easy to use]. Another example is the new terminal that we'll soon start building at [New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport]. We're excited and humbled that it will be linked to the iconic Terminal 5 building -- our hope is that one day JetBlue will be as iconic of air travel as [architect Eero] Saarinen's terminal is. Continued innovation of the customer experience is a central driver in our new terminal's design. We're working to incorporate design elements that will ... make it a beautiful environment ... [and] allow us to provide the latest in customer service.

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