Travelling by plane is a part of modern life. However, being 30,000 feet up in the sky can trigger a mixture of emotions, from excitement to boredom and fear.

I love the way an effective can interact with and shape human emotions. Surprisingly, I’ve never seen a mobile that truly helps people with the complicated emotions we feel when flying.

For the third concept project on the General Assembly UX immersive course, I received a brief to an app communicating Virgin Atlantic’s in-flight services. It was the perfect challenge: how to an app to make flying easier.

The Team

On this project, I worked with two of my classmates, Mariana Viegas Bennett and Georgina Vardy.

Preliminary and Competitive Research

The first two steps we took were preliminary research and competitor research to understand the brand and the market better.

The preliminary research showed us the visual style of the current Virgin Atlantic App and the high standard of its experience design; the competitor research showed us that airlines tend to create separate apps to communicate their inflight services, rather than making inflight services a sub-section of their booking apps.

It’s also worth noting that no airline provides an app that really caters for flyers’ needs from an emotional perspective. Their apps normally focus on informing flyers about their onboard entertainment, or providing not-so-appealing games for children.

User Research

We looked into flyers’ behaviours as well as how they felt at each stage of flying, from booking tickets to landing. The most important finding was that nearly 50% of the interviewees experience emotions such as anxiety and stress caused by their concerns about safety. Even for people who feel comfortable flying, there are moments, such as during turbulence, that they feel nervous. One of our interviewees told us that “I am generally comfortable with flying, but there are some moments where I become highly religious for 30 seconds”. Our research results align with wider data. According to research conducted in 2015, 43% of 1,061 British respondents were either “very worried” or “quite worried” about flying.

We learned that people who worry about flying tend to prepare for their journey meticulously, so that they feel in control. It is equally important for people to have a coping mechanism when they panic. Entertainment content is useful; many of the interviewees told us they watch films or listen to podcasts to distract themselves from their nerves. They normally bring their own entertainment content onboard because the options provided by airlines are limited, so their needs aren’t satisfied.

Some of the interviewees also said meditation and breathing techniques were helpful when they face anxiety brought about by flying.

Another issue bothering our flyers was that the service provided onboard can be inadequate. When experiencing emotions like anxiety, flyers want to feel cared for, and to know they can access things easily, from a glass of wine to a cup of water.

We divided the flyers into two categories, nervous flyers and comfortable flyers, and turned the research results into an experience map, to put ourselves in the flyers’ shoes and really understand them. We also separated the journey into preflight and inflight, as people’s behaviours and emotions are different in the two stages.

From the experience map, we learned that during the preflight journey, both nervous flyers and comfortable flyers have similar emotions. However, nervous flyers tend to have more ups and downs. During the inflight journey, there are more types of emotions, but similarly, the nervous flyers’ emotions are more extreme.

There are a lot of overlaps in the needs of both nervous and comfortable flyers. As the needs of nervous flyers are stronger, because of the level of their emotions, we decided to make them our primary audience. We believe that if we can cater for nervous flyers’ needs, we can also help our comfortable flyers effectively.

Persona and Story Board

We created our primary personas, nervous flyer Oliver.

Oliver lives in London and works as an advertising executive. He has a lot of hobbies, like eating pizza, drinking wine and watching Netflix. His partner has invited him to go back to South Africa to meet his parents. In a new relationship that is going well, this trip is important to Oliver. However, he has a challenge — his fear of flying.

Knowing that he will have to fly for 10+ hours, Oliver feels an extreme level of anxiety. The idea that the flight is going to crash just won’t stop bothering him.

How can we help? What if we design an app that will help Oliver by creating a playlist of the entertainment content he loves, providing him services that will make he feel looked after, and reminding him to breathe when he suffers from panic attacks, or even guiding him to meditate?

We are confident that Oliver will feel better with help from the app.

Design Studio and Main Features

With Oliver’s challenges in mind, we sketched a lot of different ideas in the design studio. We decided to take a few of them forward, and divided the features into entertainment, well-being and service.

The Entertainment section helps Oliver create a playlist from Virgin’s award-winning entertainment content before he boards, so he’ll have something immediately available to distract him when feeling nervous. It also provides him unlimited wifi so he can use other entertainment accounts, like Netflix and Spotify, to have more entertainment options.

The wellbeing section provides Oliver with videos and audio of scientific facts about flying, breathing techniques, and guided meditation sessions.

The services section show him profiles of the crew to make the service provided by Virgin feel more personal. The request function allows him to order things he needs in a more convenient and discreet way.


We started by paper prototyping.

The main feedback we received from the paper prototypes was that the flight countdown on the home page made people feel even more nervous; and the overly detailed attendant profiles were unnecessary and even misleading. We got rid of the countdown function in our low-fi digital prototype and simplified the attendant profile to show less information.

After testing the low-fi digital prototype, we clarified the onboarding process according to the feedback, and made the unlimited wi-fi feature more dominant visually, as it was proving highly popular.

In the low-fi prototype, we asked how users were feeling by having them choose from three emojis presenting different emotions. Some users told us this felt a bit intrusive, so we changed it to a slider to make them more comfortable about answering the question.

The result of testing the mid-fi prototype told us we needed to make the sequence of the onboarding screens more logical, so we further improved the onboarding process in the final mock-up.

Please click here to view the high-fidelity prototype.

Key Takeaways

  1. A thorough understanding of users’ emotions is key when designing an app that will truly cater for users’ needs.
  2. Test! Test! Test! The insight from testing is so valuable to refine the quality of the experience.
  3. Great teamwork is essential for designing an app. When working together, the people in our team respected each other’s opinions and communicated in an open and honest manner. We learned from each other and had a lot of fun working together, which helped us create a great design.

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