The Common-Sense Changes That Would Make Air Travel Less of a Hassle

They're so obvious, you could have come up with them

swiss international air lines
Swiss International Air Lines has been one of the air travel industry's few success stories in recent months
Erdem Bileg/Unsplash

In a new excerpt from his book The Ministry of Common Sense: How to Eliminate Bureaucratic Red Tape, Bad Excuses, and Corporate Bullshit published by Fast Company, writer and marketing expert Martin Lindstrom outlines a few basic principles that he relied on to help the long struggling Swiss International Air Lines “reinvent the concept of economy-class travel.” While obvious (at least from a traveler’s standpoint), the points he makes are ones that the airline industry in general would be wise to heed.

Lindstrom writes that upon initially meeting with members of senior management at Swiss International, there was a lot of emphasis on aesthetic remedies: “changing the welcome messages on the video screens, softening the glare of the reading lights, improving the snack selection, etc.”

It stands to reason that these things, particularly in aggregate, can contribute to an overall better flying experience. Even more important, though, is how well an airline manages it passenger’ collective anxiety. “Whether they’re aware of it or not, their biggest issue is the mix of apprehension, claustrophobia, and fear that make up what we call ‘anxiety,’” Lindstrom writes.

To address it, Lindstrom suggested that Swiss International establish a department whose sole focus would be to quell said passenger anxieties by implementing subtle shifts to pre- and in-flight procedures, like offering all customers a personal bottle of hand sanitizer prior to boarding — a decision that would prove especially prescient at the onset of the coronavirus epidemic.

“Most passengers don’t realize that the airplane is actually the safest part of their journey, in terms of exposure to coronavirus. Swiss made small changes designed to reassure passengers, anyway,” Lindstrom writes. “The least suspected, yet actually most COVID-infected, object on the plane is the seatbelt. Today’s passengers arrive at their seats to find their seatbelt adorned with a small seal that says, I’ve been sanitized.

The Ministry of Common Sense: How to Eliminate Bureaucratic Red Tape, Bad Excuses, and Corporate Bullshit by Martin Lindstrom
HMH Books

Next, Lindstrom set about determining some of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of boarding. Most notably, he found that passengers needing to maneuver past stationary armrests added an unnecessary amount of time, which invariably contributed to delayed departures among other things. “It’s barely noticeable; but not having to struggle with the armrest is one more small step toward easing the passenger’s overall discomfort and anxiety,” he writes.

Many passengers also reported experiencing a second wave of anxiety prior to landing, and so at Lindstrom’s suggestion, pilots began making a more elaborate and customer service-oriented announcement just before descent.

“These days, if you’re on a Swiss International flight from, say, Zurich to JFK, 40 minutes before the plane lands the captain comes on the loudspeaker. In addition to supplying gate numbers, he tells you how long the wait times are at Customs and Immigration, he gives you a weather report, and he provides an estimate for how long it will take a taxi or car service to reach the city,” Lindstrom continues. “[T]his information helps to reduce your anxiety level. It also suggests that the airline takes your time, your feelings, and your concerns seriously.”

So goes the story of how Swiss International Airlines was able to rehabilitate its brand by distributing hand sanitizer, leaving the armrests upright at boarding and giving passengers the lowdown on their destinations prior to landing. While they aren’t necessarily the answers to some of the airline industries most pressing issues, they provide definitive proof that a little thoughtfulness can go a long way.

Perhaps so too would a complimentary cocktail.

Read the full excerpt here.


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.