Air travel, observes Patrick Baudis, is still a stressful experience for many people. So Bombardier’s head of marketing wants – indeed expects – to see “ease of travel” become a priority for the aviation industry over the coming years.
Speaking at the show as the new Atmosphere cabin enters service with Bombardier CRJ900 regional jets operated by and for Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, Baudis tells FlightGlobal that, despite efforts by airframers and airlines, anxiety and stress about comfort on board are still preventing many people from travelling. That anxiety stems from many unknowns, such as whether or not a carry-on bag will in fact fit in the overhead bins, to questions about electronic device charging.
But a big factor is simply accessibility. Research carried out by Bombardier when it began work on the Atmosphere interior revealed that people of reduced mobility – whether wheelchair-bound or struggling with other physical impairments – resist or avoid flying. He underscores the nature of the problem by noting that this hesitance to fly is often driven by dignity, or the lack of it, in typical aircraft toilet options.
Regional services have tended to overlook such issues, as the flight may only be around an hour. But Baudis notes that a wheelchair-bound passenger is typically boarded in advance and deplaned last, which can easily turn that hour into two – two anxiety-fuelled hours – between opportunities to visit a toilet.
For this reason, he says, the airframer and interior partner Safran were pleased to realise they could install a wheelchair-accessible forward lavatory in the CRJ – while making the ceiling 3in higher, to better accommodate today’s taller, bigger passengers.
The “PRM” lavatory – for People of Reduced Mobility – is the only Atmosphere option, and so far no airline customer has bought it. But Baudis hopes to see airlines give PRM access and comfort a priority before it become a matter of law or regulation. “It shouldn’t be a matter of competition,” he says. “It should be the right thing to do.”
In the US market, he says, where the scope clauses in pilot contracts restrict regional services to 76 seats, Bombardier has an advantage in interior space, as its CRJs are longer than rival offerings.
But wheelchair access, he believes, will come to aviation as it has become an expectation in other areas of human interaction. “We’re getting there. Personally, I think we should get there more rapidly.”
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