Able to Fly: Boeing gets going

front cover of handbook of anthropology for businessOne of the first centres for universal design was set up in Japan, so it is no real surprise that Japan Airlines is pushing Boeing to re-think aircraft and air travel design especially as they not only employ many older workers, they also want to appeal to the older traveller. Anthropologist Kenneth C Erickson writes a very interesting chapter on this in Handbook of Anthropology in Business, which is available from Google books. He covers the whole travel experience from a user perspective using ethnographic techniques. It seems that Boeing, in trying to make the flight experience more convenient, might be adopting universal design principles without perhaps realising it. Here is an an excerpt from the latter part of the text:

“Boeing knows how important it is to see where you are, where you are going, and what things look like outside the airplane window. They’ve reconfigured the interior of the new Dreamliner so that windows are … roughly eye-level. The carbon-fiber fuselage allows greater structural strength and affords bigger windows, while light-sensitive glass obviates the need for those window shades that used to be difficult for passengers to manage […] And although we think of Boeing as making only the airplane, they also make jet-bridges and some of the display technology that shows seat availability for passengers waiting at the gate. This is evidence that Boeing already knows that air travel does not begin when passengers enter the plane; it is not inconceivable that they may broaden their view of travel further and include the entire process of baggage handling, making it, too, more transparent. […] And the work of flight attendants on the ground and in the air … can be made visible and appreciated, so they in turn may see and appreciate those whose bodies – and luggage – they care for. That’s where universal design fosters a good kind of globalization: through it we recognize our common, traveling humanity, and the difference between the temporarily able-bodied and the other dissolves, for a time, into thin air.”

The title of the chapter is, Able to Fly: Temporality, Visibility & the Disabled Airline Passenger, in Handbook of Anthropology in Business, 2016