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

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No luggage, please


Poppi has a simple carry-on policy: no luggage. In the cabin, traditional overhead bins are replaced with “fedora bins,” which have just enough room for personal items, like laptop bags and jackets. Plus, it creates an open feeling throughout the cabin.

The policy solves a few problems. Since nearly all airlines charge a baggage fee, many passengers have been carrying them on instead. This slows down the boarding process, and, if overhead compartments are full and the airline has to check them for free, it angers those who paid. Smaller bins even the playing field, and it helps with on-time departures and quicker de-boarding of planes.

“You’ll hear industry insiders claim with total confidence that passengers want their carry-ons onboard,” Liddell says. “But when you listen to passengers, that’s not what they want. What they want is transparency and assurance that their bag is where it’s supposed to be, and they want a way to get their bag back in a way that’s better than a spinning carousel. And, they don’t want to pay a bag fee – which is really just a fine for doing business with an airline – and that’s why they bring their bags onboard.”

RFID baggage tags


If everyone is required to check his or her luggage, Poppi needs to ensure bags end up in passengers’ hands upon arrival. Poppi uses RFID tags to track where bags are at all times, and Poppi’s mobile app notifies you when it’s ready for pick-up.

“A lot of the tech within Poppi is not futuristic at all,” Liddell says. “The fact that RFID and NFC bag tags are not more widespread is a bit crazy considering that the technology is entirely available. Qantas has had an awesome reusable RFID bag tags (created by Apple design consultant, the renowned Marc Newson) in service since 2010. And yet, airlines continue to spend literally millions of dollars a year on thermal paper.

A middle seat you’ll fight for


As if flying coach isn’t already grueling, getting stuck in a middle seat is like grinding salt in the wound. Poppi’s middle seats are actually valuable: Partnering with prized brands, passengers in these seats get something extra. Passengers won’t only want to book these seats, they may even pay more for them.


While airlines are creating cabin fares with rigid policies, Poppi has taken a page from tech companies like StubHub. You may not be able to get a refund, but what if you could list your flight on a marketplace and resell it? Or trade your prized middle seat with someone who has a window seat, so you can get some sleep? Poppi’s approach demonstrates that you can still run a lean and very profitable business model without entrapping your passengers.

“In our research phase, we noted that six of the ten largest sports leagues in the world operate their own ticket resale platforms,” Liddell says. “And the big reason they built and operate these platforms is that it generates additional revenue and serves fans better. So this is an obvious direction for airlines.”

Loyalty program that actually rewards


Membership programs like Starbucks Rewards and Amazon Prime have shown that companies can keep customers coming back simply by offering discounts and freebies to those who spend more, while adding significant profit. Current frequent-flier programs make it difficult to attain elite status, and the rewards they offer get slimmer every year. Poppi’s approach makes everyone an important member of a community (similar to what JetBlue and Virgin America do), allowing loyal fliers to pre-pay for flights and services similar to Starbucks Rewards, while rewarding them with tangible incentives – not miles that you can never redeem.

“Starbucks makes 8 percent of its annual profit on interest income, which is mostly thanks to the billions of dollars consumers pre-load onto its payment platforms, essentially pre-paying for coffee,” Liddell says, adding Amazon members spend more than 50 percent than non-members. “And then when you think about Uber and Airbnb, they are also models to borrow from, especially in regards to how they create a sense of belonging and community, which definitely does not exist for most modern airlines.”

Real-time info


Instead of waiting for gate agents to announce status or boarding, Poppi relies on a system that delivers real-time information to displays and mobile devices. When it’s your time to board, your smartphone or smartwatch pings you, so you don’t have to wait around the gate to hear if your row is boarding. With clear info on exactly who can board, Poppi also eliminates “gate lurking” – slyly boarding with a group that you don’t belong in. There’s also a social networking aspect to Poppi’s app: You may see notes from fellow passengers who are requesting to trade seats.

“Some of the functionality that we’re proposing with mobile apps will require airlines to be much more contextually aware of where passengers are within the travel experience, and for them to tailor interactions according to specific moments,” Liddell says. “That’s not happening today to the extent it will need to happen, but none of that is science fiction.”

First, business, or coach? Neither


Rather than dividing a plane based on price and elitism, Poppi’s classes are based on what passengers’ interests. For example, partnering with film studios, a “cinema class” would show exclusive movies, TV shows, or other content to those paying passengers.

Brand recognition


A hip and successful branding can do wonders for an airline (see JetBlue, Virgin). Poppi’s check-in counters, gate areas, mobile app, stationery, plates, and even merchandise are well designed, so much so that you’ll want to steal some to use at home. Its planes are also painted all-black, so there’s no misidentifying who you’re flying. We think Air New Zealand’s all-black planes are stunning, and it works here.

New business class

For its larger Boeing 777 planes, Poppi has reinvented business travel with the “click class.” Here, travelers would be able to bring on a custom-designed luggage that clicks into the seat. The idea here is that the business traveler needs to be on the move quickly, so she doesn’t need to wait for luggage, and can be easily stowed while onboard. Another added-value service Poppi offers is luggage delivery for its premium passengers.

“In the future, bags need to go to lots of places – specifically, straight to hotels and transit stations and homes and even Amazon lockers. But the last place they need to go is in (overhead compartments).”

Ongoing exercise


“We wanted to make Poppi a platform for ongoing explorations into everything from new business models to new technologies,” Liddell says. “There’s a lot of work to do there. And we’re up for it.”


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