Inflight Contentment: Design for the emotional journey

Details and Design banner with text on graph paper backgroundIf you’ve ever cried uncontrollably during an inflight movie, or found yourself looking out of the aircraft window wondering about the meaning of life, you are not alone. Time spent in the air can elicit a broad range of both positive and negative emotions, but the ultimate aim should be contentment, according to research by Studio Black Tomato. Airlines can apply these insights into the emotional journey to tailor the design of their products and services.

Following a series of interviews with frequent flyers and travel experts at sister-company and luxury tour operator Black Tomato, the Studio mapped out a set of 48 common emotions, sorted from most to least commonly experienced during a flight.

“The customer really does run the full emotional gamut when they head for the skies. However, too often this heady mix of feelings and what is causing them (both positive and negative) is overlooked,” said Tom Marchant, co-founder of Black Tomato Group.

“A one size fits all approach to customer experience or an unwillingness to review and possibly change archaic practices around service tends to be the rule rather than the exception. But that means there is a great opportunity to truly enhance the customer experience.”

In this review, Studio Black Tomato identified the highs and lows, and found that contentment is the most desirable state. But how can airlines deliver contentment? A big part of it is catering to a desire for coziness or hygge as the Danes might say.

“Airlines should look for moments to address anxiety whilst we also look for opportunities to respect people’s special me-time. Instead of a flight representing an elated sense of excitement and surprise, passengers are looking for a baseline level of contentment. A moment when they can simultaneously revel in their own company but also be comforted and reassured that their fears and anxieties are in hand,” the Studio reports.

Travelers tend to have their own inflight comforts including neck pillows, blankets, creams, music playlists, comfy socks. But airlines can set the stage by planning soothing lighting schemes and boarding music, offering warm beverages and simple treats.

Crew can help passengers manage anxiety and other negative emotions by maintaining a friendly and caring tone. Another way in which airlines can help put passengers at ease is by offering clear information, both in signage and on digital channels like their apps and IFE, which help passengers stay better informed about their journey.

Uncertainty and a lack of control over one’s circumstances contributes to passenger worry, but Studio Black Tomato makes an interesting point: keep messaging simple. An overload of information can also contribute to anxiety.

“The flight experience could learn from the financial services world,” the report suggests. “Companies like Monzo and Starling are benefitting from easy user interfaces that tell you the very simple amount of information you need to know. Imagine if your flight experience could be boiled down the same way – just the bare bones of information with an option to expand it. An answer to every question above, but only as and when you need it.”


While there is a lot of study ongoing on the impact of longer journeys on passengers, Studio Black Tomato suggests that time is relative in-flight. The focus should be on offering passengers a setting in which they can find their own contentment, regardless of the flight’s duration.

“The passing of time on a flight is difficult to define due to sleep patterns, time differences and unusual meal times. The length of a flight is therefore not always the biggest concern,” states the report.

“While waiting on the tarmac is seen as wasteful and frustrating, time in the air is instead a valuable commodity – a rare moment when doing nothing physically transports you to somewhere new. It’s a rare occasion to focus solely on ‘me time’, which often evokes nostalgic childhood feelings: like coming home for Christmas.”

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