A new beginning: The story of AirGo

By 30 Dec 2013Press Release

How it all started?

In the early summer of 2012, Alireza as a mechanical engineering undergraduate was busy designing a multi-terrain rescue robot for a university project. The team members had a difficult time choosing a single design out of many, but the deadline for the presentation was only a few weeks away.
In a matter of few days, Alireza had to combine all the ideas in a single design and at the same time, study for the finals. That essentially meant he had to spend most of his days behind a computer desk. Sitting for 12 hours a day on a typical office chair was not exactly a comfortable experience. Eventually, one day at the library, even though he had a lot to study for the coming exam, he could not help but roughly sketch on his iPad what to him was the ultimate seat for long hours of work.While Alireza’s team managed to win the overall best project that year and he passed his exams with distinction, he never found the time to go back to his early sketches. That was until a few weeks later when he was traveling back to his home country to visit the family. A long journey of more than 8 hours in the economy cabin was uncomfortable enough to remind Alireza of his forgotten dreams. Unlike other passengers, Alireza did not sleep that night. He instead took the same old sketches and kept working on different elements of his design while he was going through an experience which was both horrible and amazing at the same time. When Alireza arrived at his hometown, although his short vacation had already started, he refused to stop working until late hours of night and sometimes even until dawn. 

Alireza’s early sketches of what later became AirGo.

Meanwhile, a very staggering thought occurred to him. Last time when he was visiting his family, he flew on a very modern airliner, while this time; it was one of those antique aircrafts which probably should have been placed in a museum. Despite its age, the cabin on the latter was largely the same as the modern ones with only a few subtle differences, such as the LCD screen.
This fueled Alireza’s interest even more to learn why economy class unlike anything else on this planet has not changed for over half a century. To him, flying economy was like traveling back in time to the 60’s when these seats were first used in large numbers. 

Economy Class

1950                   vs.                  2013

After a few weeks of intense work, the preliminary design was almost finished, but Alireza was still thinking of a way to share his ideas with many other out there who were looking forward to a big change in the travel industry. 

A friend suggested that he should consider taking part in The James Dyson Award, but Alireza had already participated before in the international design competition and his entry was never selected even at the national level.
It was the last days of August right before the deadline that Alireza finally decided to anyhow enter the competition with his new concept called AirGo. 

Alireza’s design never made into the world’s top 20, but what it won was far more valuable. AirGo won the heart of millions of people out there who had been waiting for decades for someone to finally design a new seat for the other 99%.

James Dyson Award 

AirGo actually never won the overall prize… Probably because Sir Dyson does not fly economy quite often?! (wink)

 

When Genevieve Brown, the travel editor at ABC News called AirGo, “The Future of Airline Seating”, that was enough for Alireza’s concept to become one of the most trending topics in the news in only a few hours. AirGo was soon featured on hundreds of websites and newspapers around the globe in over 10 languages (a selection of these can be accessed HERE).

It was now called “the revolutionary new design for airline seats” as Damien Gayle wrote in his article.

Over time, Alireza also kept reading reviews of different airlines only to find out that he was not the alone in thinking that it was time for the 21st century to finally arrive in the economy cabin.
“I paid for an entire seat, but only get less than two third of it? Please tell me that there is a regulation regarding this situation.”

 – Airfarewatchdog.com

“Airlines have the lowest score among 47 industries tracked by ACSI.”

Wall Street Journal – June 2011 
 
“The seats are ridiculously small and had quite a large man on one side of me and the passenger in front reclined his chair … Absolutely Claustrophobic.”
-J.U. Economy Class Passenger 
 
“The Premium Economy was equally uncomfortable and only had plenty of legroom. Not worth the extra money at all.”
-A.H. Premium Economy Passenger
 
“These people must have the most uncomfortable seats of any airline in the entire world … How do they do this? They are hard!”
-C.Y. Economy Class Passenger 
 

At this point, Alireza already knew that AirGo was going to be the solution the industry had been hoping for all along. People from all around the world were sending him tens of messages everyday and sharing their stories with him.

 “I have a long history of challenges with airline seats and I applaud you to socialize your creative engineering solution.”
 
– Donald James, Director of New Ventures and Communications at NASA’s Ames Research Center 

Seeing this much interest from people, Alireza decided to take things into his own hands and find a place to make the prototype, but with no funding or a capable team, this was not really feasible. Luckily, that was about to change very soon …

 

What it takes to finally change the Economy Class?

GOOD DESIGN.INNOVATIVE AIRLINE.GLOBAL MOVEMENT 

Exactly a year after Alireza first started working on the idea which later evolved into AirGo, he was introduced through a common friend to Mikko Alanko, an avid entrepreneur who had successfully helped startups to grow from ambitious student projects into essential elements of over a billion products from world-renowned brands such as Samsung, Sony and Motorola. With Mikko, Alireza founded a company in Singapore and in only a few weeks, even though the company had nothing more than a pending US patent, senior executives from different industries were offering a helping hand to promote the idea of comfort in the economy class.  Among them were Jere Tala who had successfully led Qatar Airways and Finnair operation in Asia, and Henri Holm,  a former CFO at Nokia and one of the key persons behind the success of the world’s fastest growing consumer franchise, Angry Birds. These were visionary people who could see that airline seating is going to be just a start and AirGo could soon be the new environment for anything like trains, hospitals, schools, shopping malls, offices, etc where comfort is overlooked and an engaging experience is lacking. 

Finally a new beginning was in the making …

 

 
 
“I am not going to lie; we all knew what our economy passengers had to go through, especially in long-haul flights, but it takes more than an airline to change an industry so conservative that has refused to for decades. We needed a revolutionary idea. We needed something so ambitious yet financially reasonable. I believe AirGo is what we were hoping for all along.”
 
– Jere Tala, Former country manager at Qatar Airways and Finnair. Currently director of sales at BCD travel and a board member at AirGo.  
 

 
“When I joined the Angry Birds team, I was not thinking of having just another job. It was all about a mission. I was searching for a big thing in my life that could make the world a fun place. Since then I have been on a search to make world a happier place, and the next big thing is AirGo. This is what is going to change the world and the change will be huge!”
 
– Henri Holm, Former senior vice president at Rovio Entertainment and a former CFO at Nokia (Greater China, Japan & Korea). Currently a board member at AirGo. 
 

Technical Director at Airbus Innovation Center:

Economy Class not changing even in a century, unless people demand it!

Probably the biggest misconception in the airline industry is that economy passengers do not want to pay more and therefore they should not complain about the poor services and lack of comfortability. In other words, you get what you pay for. 

The reality however is nothing like that. Numerous surveys (source) have shown that more than 40% of economy passengers are willing to pay extra for a more comfortable experience, but the gap between economy and business is just too large that they cannot simply afford an upgrade.This is where many get confused and say that those passengers can save up and fly business, but at AirGo, we think that is as absurd as saying that you can either buy an old Nissan for a few thousands dollars or save for a Ferrari. There needs to be more than a pair of choices. In a free market, necessary supplies need to have enough variety to address a large portion of demands at any purchasing power. Many airlines have started offering premium economy seats for the middle class market, but they are either as uncomfortable as economy class or are very close to business class as far as the ticket price goes. 

The AirGo team, has been very active sharing this concern with both airlines and manufacturers. On many occassions, for example with IATA or Bombardier, the feedback actually helped tune the concept in a way to bring it closer to reality, but on other instances, the findings were absolutely shocking! 

Giant manufactureres typically refuse to accept any major redesign of economy class, because to them, it is already a successful market so long that the profit keeps growing. “If you add anything new, materials, design, or anything which is not already in use, it takes lots of work and money to test and implement it. We simply do not want to do that” said a technical director at one of Airbus’ innovation centers. He continued that “best-case scenario, people will agree to take one or two elements of your design, say the armrest, which can be easily integrated with current models.” However according to him, even though they have no technical reason to revisit the economy cabin even a century from now, things will dramatically change if some of their major customers, say Qatar or Emirates start pushing for a complete redefinition. 

Meet the new economy class: Aviointerior’s Skyrider! (Reuters)

Many airlines have done just that for the past few years … well, for the business class. Lufthansa, Europe’s largest airline alone has endowed 4 billion dollars to improve the flight experience for first class and business passengers. The designs sometimes are so ambitious that a single unit may end up costing half a million dollars. (source) That is more expensive than a 2013 Lamborghini Aventador!  One might think that in the coming years, with development of new technologies, economy class will also eventually get more comfortable, but the truth is sadly the opposite (for example, take a look at Aviointerior’s Skyrider). With the increasing cost of fuel, it is going to get worse unless the other 99% of passengers demand it. 

Before                 2007                  After  

Every major game changer starts with a pioneering idea.

An idea which may look too ambitious and out of reach at first.

But when it finally works out, the skeptics realize there is no other way forward.

AirGo is all about the other 99%               

We understand the limitations and challenges of brigning a revolutionary concept into the economy class considering the rising cost of fuel. That is why we have integrated comfort and low weight in a single body. We also know that majority of passengers for short-haul flights prefer a lower fare over comfort (source), but with Series B, we have tried to keep the most outstanding features of Series A which is intended for long-haul flights and put it in the average economy seating pitch of 30″.  AirGo with its ultralight and ultraslim structure not only saves fuel and minimizes carbon emission, but provides more comfort for the same pitch. The special fabric dynamically transforms to mimic the body countor. It also eliminates vibration during severe turbulences. The lack of cushions prevents numbness and simultaneously gives a better freedom of movement. The seats are 100% recyclable and use the state of the art technology that cannot be found in any other design to date. 
 Let your voice be heard … 

Demand Comfort!