Monday, February 27, 2012

When a Celebrity Clunk on the Head Becomes a Bright Idea

At first glance it might not seem that President Obama and kid-rocker Justin Bieber have much in common. But both men had just a tad too much altitude going through the doorway of aircraft and - boom! the celebrity noggins got a good crack while the paparazzi snapped photos.

Yep, it is fun to put America's president and its most adorable heart-throb together in the same sentence and call them klutzes, but there's more to the story.

Ask the flight attendants who work on the smaller regional airplanes how often their passengers get an owie! for failing to mind their noodles on entering the airplane and you'll hear an astonishing number. Ninety seven percent said they've seen passengers crack their heads, three-quarters of them said the injury involved bleeding, bruising or a bump and more than half of the flight attendants surveyed said they've seen it happen dozens of times.

In the comments section of the survey, conducted by JDA Aviation Technology Solutions - one flight attendant wrote, "Passengers hitting their heads has been discussed with our Director of Safety and the flight attendant management before, but it is another "Que Sera, Sera Whatever Will Be, Will Be".

Photo courtesy Ron Whipple
Ron Whipple, an air transport specialist, who has 9,000 hours flying the Saab 340 told me he lost count of how many times he banged his head on the door frame during his 18 years of flying for American Eagle. "Luckily, I had my hat on most of the time," he said with a laugh, "so I didn't get really hurt." 

So there is a problem knocking around out there, but getting any attention paid to it is undermined by the fact that no one takes this kind of injury seriously - up to and including sometimes, the person injured.

Asking the Regional Airline Association for the number of skulls cracked while boarding got me nowhere.  Kelly Murphy, the industry's media representative said, it "does not keep reports of this nature."

So to quantify the problem, JDA had to ask the folks most likely to know, pilots and flight attendants who work for the regional carriers that are moving 430,000 passengers around America each and every day. Based on these interviews and a lot of what seems to be common sense, it has come up with a low-tech solution that borrows heavily from the baby's crib in the nursery. JDA has created a upholstered bumper that wraps around the upper edge of the hard metal airplane door frame - and here's the brilliant new take - they want to sell ad space on the thing as demonstrated in the company photo below.

Note the head guard being demonstrated on this airplane. Photo courtesy JDA
Now, one would think that given the airline industry's rush to find newer, better, wilder sources of revenue, which I reported in today's New York Times, selling ad space at  passengers' eye-level while simultaneously delivering the message that the airline values the cranium above your seat as much as the posterior that's in it, would be an easy sell. But one would be wrong.

Bill Norwood, the executive in charge of the head guard project says the regional airlines loved the idea when it was presented at their annual meeting in Nashville last year but the orders aren't exactly rolling in, even though JDA is offering to give the head guards away. What the company wants is a cut of what advertisers pay to have their message embroidered above the lowered heads of a half million travelers.

The whole project makes me think of that old cartoon in which someone gets knocked out cold and awakens with a light bulb going on symbolizing a brilliant idea. If that someone was a high ranking airline executive, well, maybe then....


Tim Kern said...

Well, let's see: Bieber and Obama... hmmm... OK, I've got it: they're both equally qualified to run the country. How's that?

Jim Blaszczak said...

I like the idea of a head bumper, but I seriously question the logic of making it an attractive nuisance. Just making eye contact with the flight attandant is enough to cause passengers to trip on the airplane door threshold, which is almost never exactly aligned with the jet bridge. If the advertising head bumper is widely used, I am sure the company will soon offer a soft mat that could be placed just inside the aircraft to soften the impact when people trip over the door sill. Possibly advertising could be sold on the mat as well. Something catchy like, "This trip brought to you…." The one liners just write themselves.

Kyle said...

As a previous regional airline pilot I have seen many passengers hit their head including myself. Luckily, I had my hat on most of the time. Amazing that the airlines are concerned about passenger safety but ONLY if they can profit from it.

John Slemp said...

As someone who creates and licenses images for a living, I can understand the concept of "revenue producing ad space". However, I'm constantly amazed at the MBA "group think" that espouses profit over common sense.

Whatever happened to doing the right thing to take care of your customers? I mean, if it will make the trip just a little safer, and, heaven forbid, possibly prevent a lawsuit, wouldn't that seem like a prudent thing to do?

Am I missing something...again?

Tim Kern said...

There is absolutely nothing wrong with turning an expense into a profit-generator.

Safety costs money, so why not have it pay for itself? A bump strip produces no revenue, and it's apparently net even as safe. A blinking light bar might be as well-noticed, but wouldn't produce revenue.

What's wrong with America? If somebody makes a buck, we go for his throat! Some folks are hostile to profits, even if their delivery system increases safety!

Maybe we all need to have the government supply infitite bubble wrap for our heads. But why? We don't use them for anything, anyway.

Brad Whirley said...

American Ingenuity...Someone sees a problem, invents a solution, and is creative enough to market it in a way brings safety without adding cost to the airlines or passengers, and the negative nellies come out and criticize...and you wonder why everything is leaving America and going overseas....Hmmmmm? This shows ingenuity and business sense and is really a no brainer for the airlines and advertisers...they should both be lining up to implement. Kudos to the folks at The Head Guard and JDA for bringing this to America. I understand it will be a Made In America product! let's help the economy and protect passengers. Thanks JDA and HeadGuard...Keep on moving forward.

Cedarglen said...

For the smaller RJs, the head guard as shown in your pic is a great idea. Beyond that, I think this is a non-issue and even 'filler' type reporting. There ARE more important issues out there...