Meet Poppi, the airline that wants to fix everything awful about air travel

Airlines are constantly reinventing themselves, but new paint jobs, logos, and ever-more perks for the 1-percent up front don’t address the headaches of air travel. What if there was a startup airline, modeled after the likes of Uber and Airbnb, that truly disrupts the status quo of flying?

There is, and it’s called Poppi.

Before you try to book a ticket, you should know Poppi doesn’t exist. It’s a concept developed by one of the world’s top design agencies, Teague, and introduced at the recent Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) Expo in Portland, Oregon. The firm looked at the annoyances passengers face and other things that are backward about the industry, and created an airline concept that addresses the needs of today’s flyers, rather than following established practices. But Poppi is also a wake-up call for many airlines, particularly the legacy carriers.

“We we wanted a name that was bright and exuberant, and also tech-forward.”

“We set out to create a concept for a cohesive, belief-driven startup airline that would inspire existing airlines to anticipate future innovations and start replicating those innovations today,” says Devin Liddell, Teague’s Principal Brand Strategist. “To be blunt, there are big parts of the airline business model and airline practices that deserve reinvention.”

Compared to the taxi and hotel industries that Uber and Airbnb disrupted, the airline business isn’t as easy to break into, so many airlines, perhaps, haven’t felt the need to revolutionize their “conventional thinking” practices. Even customer favorites like JetBlue and Virgin America, while highly innovative, still follow industry standards. But Teague says existing airlines are facing more and more dissatisfied passengers with the way things are evolving, and it’s time to implement “disruptive innovations” into their operations – before a real startup truly turns the business upside-down.

“What if the taxi cab industry could’ve seen Uber coming?” Liddell says. “Would they have changed the way they do dispatch and payment? I think they would have.”

Technology will play a big role. In fact, the name Poppi, which was chosen because it doesn’t fit with existing naming constructs, Liddell says, has a tech reference.

“We modified the word ‘Poppy,’ which we think of as a very bright and brave flower, by changing the ‘Y’ to an ‘I’ at the end,” Liddell says. “And the reason we did this was then all the letters can be formed with a one or a zero – the name can be formed through a bit string of code. And that’s deliberate, because we fervently believe that the airline of the future will need to be a software company on some level, to be very fluent in how it uses code to solve problems, and create fantastic experiences.

“We we wanted a name that was bright and exuberant, and also tech-forward,” Liddell adds.

Creative agencies are constantly developing design exercises, like Poppi, to explore how good practices can benefit society (check out Teague’s Nike plane concept). Often they are radical, but Poppi presents ideas that can be easily introduced. In fact, Teague says some of the ideas already exists, and are being trialed by various airlines.

Unlike outrageous hardware solutions like Airbus’ patent for “stacked seating,” Poppi’s approach is to change the perceptions of air travel. Interestingly, Liddell says, from Teague’s research, many passengers actually want changes, like minimal carry-ons, to take place, but it’s airlines themselves that have a harder time grasping disruptive concepts.

“The way (new) ideas will be accepted is by introducing them to passengers in real life, and then having those passengers experience their benefits first-hand,” Liddell says. “Then they’ll tell their family and friends, ‘Wow, this was really different and I love it.’ I know that sounds simplistic, but we know from years and years of brand research that it’s the way the world works. Plus, we’ve already heard from many, many passengers and their feedback is very clear: They want these new ways of doing things.

While design concepts usually remain on paper, Teague has a long history in air travel, working with Boeing since the early days of modern air travel and developing cabins for Air Canada, Aeromexico, and Emirates.

“We obviously share a lot of this thinking directly with our partners at Boeing and also with airlines,” Liddell says. “So I think it’s less about marketing this concept than just having hard-working conversations about how to make these ideas real so that passengers and airlines can start benefitting from them.”

While Poppi may not exist, some of its concepts could shake up your next flight … in a good way.

Next page: What’s in store

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