Vol. 20 No. 2
Innovation in Air Travel
Delta Air Lines and the Theradyne Division of Kurt Manufacturing introduced the first-ever hydraulic lift carry-on chair to be used to transport passengers with disabilities onto aircraft. It is being called the Delta Air Chair. It will help improve the customer experience by providing a more comfortable transfer into aircraft seats that may not have a moveable aisle armrest.
"The Delta Air Chair should go a long way toward reducing the incidence of injury to special needs passengers as well as increasing their comfort level," said Nancy Starnes, director of the Paralysis Society of America and member of Delta's Customer Advisory Board. "Innovations such as the Delta Air Chair illustrate Delta's commitment to the increasing diversity of the traveling public."
The Delta Air chair features a patent pending hydraulic lift system that elevates a passenger to the height of the handrail so the airline employee can easily pass him/her over the armrest and lower her/him into their seat. Currently this is done manually by the gate agents. The new hydraulic technology promises to protect both passengers and airline employees from injury and to make the travel experience more comfortable for special needs passengers.
Delta and Kurt Manufacturing have worked very closely to develop and test the chair. Delta employees in Orlando created the concept and partnered with Theradyne to develop the first prototype. Kurt engineers used technology from one of their existing products, a hydraulic wheelchair, to create prototype I. It was tested in Orlando for a six-month period on Delta Express, Delta's low-fare airline.
Prototype I was deemed an outstanding success, and Kurt used customer and employee feedback from the initial test to modify the original design and create the current prototype II. Now, prototype II has entered the second and final testing phase, a 60-day test of more than 30 chairs in 16 of Delta's airport operations throughout the United States. These airports include Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York (JFK & LaGuardia), Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix/Scottsdale, Portland, Salt Lake City, Tampa, Washington, DC (Reagan), and West Palm Beach.
Once the test is completed, Delta will analyze the results and determine whether or not the chair will benefit customers and employees throughout its global operations. If so, Delta and other airlines would have the opportunity to purchase and/or lease this innovative new product. [Ed. If you have used this "Air Chair", you should be sure to let Delta know your reaction.]
In 1999, Delta established a customer advocacy strategy to proactively design programs for customers with disabilities and other special needs. Since then they have:
l Formed a Customer Advisory Board consisting of representatives from national disability organizations to help the company define policies and procedures that better accommodate persons with disabilities.
l Supplied detailed information about accessibility services on their web site, www.delta-air.com, and via brochures in regular and large print as well as Braille.
l Explored new and better assisting equipment such as a new airport wheelchair and Gate Information Display Screens for people with hearing disabilities.
l Enhanced their training curriculum to include more information on providing services for persons with disabilities.