Sunday musings: Boarding planes faster, personal airport shoppers, selling sleep

by Charlie Leocha on December 29, 2013

BoardingThis Sunday we take time to look at the science of boarding planes and wonder why this seems to be harder than rocket science. We hear about Heathrow Airport, that is providing personal shoppers upon request to sell the best of their duty-free offerings. And, hotels begin to sell sleep with questionable remedies for deep sleep. Will sleep-deprived zombies pay extra for zzzz’s?

Airlines and airports look to take the pain out of boarding planes

For years, airlines have been testing new boarding processes. I once worked with Dutch airline KLM as it tried to speed up boarding in order to add another bank of flights at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Boarding window seats first, back rows first, alternative rows, front-to-back boarding … nothing made much of a difference other than the current Southwest boarding process that many passengers consider a cattle call. Now, new techniques are blending various methods.

KLM claims to be the first carrier to come up with an innovative boarding technique they call “Smart Boarding.”

“The breakthrough idea we had was to translate each passenger’s seat number into a sequence number,” said van Helden, [project leader for KLM's "Smarter Boarding" program].

The numbers are then displayed on a big screen at the departure gate at five-second intervals, allowing only one person at a time to board the plane.

So far, “Smart Boarding” has been used daily on three European flights departing from Schiphol airport.

“It works very well for us and we board faster, 20 percent faster,” van Helden said.

Airport personal shoppers help goose layover spending

The rich and famous have long had personal shoppers, but now London’s Heathrow Airport has opened its personal shopper experience to any traveler upon request. It is an opportunity to feel special and important while having a shopping expert guide you through the stores.

Travelers may request a personal shopper when they arrive at the airport, or book one in advance and send details about items of interest, preferences, the time they have on the ground, favorite brands and a shopping budget.

“By the time you arrive at Heathrow, your personal shopper will have pulled out suitable products and set them aside for you,” said the airport’s retail director, Muriel Zingraff-Shariff. “They’ll then escort you to each store and make new suggestions in line with your feedback.”

Since October, when the personal shopping program was expanded to everyone from a VIP-only service, hundreds have used it to buy everything from “a sandwich lunch to a gold and diamond watch” from the airport’s 300-plus retail outlets, Zingraff-Shariff said.

Hotels sell elusive dream of a good night’s sleep

It used to be, hotels offered you a bed, sink, shower and occasionally a free breakfast. Today, some hotels are starting to offer sleep as well as a bed to sleep on. I find this marketing of sleep remedies a bit suspect, but it seems to be striking a chord with some. Would you pay extra for sleep-inducing aroma therapy, special pillows and IV vitamin injections? Not I.

“We’ve become a nation of walking zombies. We don’t value sleep. We treat it as a luxury,” said Dr. James Maas, a psychologist and sleep expert who coined the phrase “power nap.”

About two-thirds of Americans say they do not get enough sleep during the week, with most saying they need 7.5 hours to feel their best, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll, which found blinking lights from pervasive use of electronics are exacerbating this problem.

Hotels in big cities and quiet deserts alike have woken up to the trend and are dimming lights, removing digital clocks in rooms, hiring sleep concierges, offering meditation, pillow menus and relaxation massages. Guests might even find themselves hooked up to an intravenous infusion.

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