The Study and Design of Collaboration Tools for Flight Attendants

The Study and Design of Collaboration Tools for Flight Attendants

Stephanie Wong, Samarth Singhal, Carman Neustaedter
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/IJMHCI.2018040102
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Collaboration is a core component of work activities amongst flight attendants. This is as they work to promote onboard safety and deliver a high level of customer service. Yet we know little of how flight attendants collaborate and how we can best design technology to support this collaboration. Through an interview study with flight attendants, the authors explored their collaborative practices and processes and how technology aided such practices. While technologies like interphones and flight attendant call buttons act as collaboration tools, they identified instances where the usability and functionality of these devices were barriers for maintaining efficient communication, situation awareness, and information exchange. The authors used these results to identify design suggestions for technology that can enhance communication and collaboration in aircraft settings amongst flight attendants. To illustrate these design suggestions, they designed and developed Smart Crew, a smartwatch application that allows flight attendants to maintain an awareness of each other and communicate through messaging with haptic feedback. Smart Crew is designed with an emphasis on real time information access, location updates and direct communication between flight attendants regardless of their location on the airplane.
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1. Introduction

Collaboration amongst flight attendants is important as they are responsible for the delivery of both customer service and on-board safety. Miscommunication or error has the potential to be embarrassing and highly publicized (Skogstad et al., 1995; Salas et al., 2001). It can also lead to critical accidents and incidents (Skogstad et al., 1995; Salas et al., 2001). Understanding that communication needs to be optimized, past research (Skogstad et al., 1995; Salas et al., 2001, Krivonos 2005; Zhu and Ma 2015) has emphasized the improvement of communication processes between pilots in the cockpit and cabin crew, but there has been little research that focuses solely on how flight attendants collaborate during flight operation (Endsley 2011). Thus, there is a gap in understanding how new technologies can support the collaboration needs and practices of flight attendants and how such technologies should be designed to match flight attendants’ routines.

Our research comprises two main stages that address this gap. First, we conducted in-depth interviews with flight attendants from domestic and international airlines. Our study focuses on their collaborative practices involving flight attendant interaction, awareness, and the exchange of information. Our results show that the tools currently available to flight attendants to aid collaboration (e.g., interphones, call buttons, visual displays) do not easily fit within their needs and routines. Instead, in order to match their on-the-job needs, workarounds are required to communicate with one another and maintain a high level of awareness of the environment. Without the proper integration of these tools with current work practices, flight attendants lacked the support necessary to easily communicate and collaborate when in-flight. In the current article, we present these results and a series of associated design lessons that suggest directions for the design of communication and awareness technologies for flight attendants with an emphasis on real time access to situation awareness information and hands-free interactions to assist work activities. Our design lessons focus on: providing real time location awareness of all crew members; mechanisms to send and receive status information about flights on the go (e.g., turbulence, weather); interactions to send short status updates or longer messages; and, awareness of passenger needs via call button interactions.

Second, to explore how our design suggestions can be realized, we designed and developed an application called Smart Crew. Smart Crew is a smartwatch application that provides flight attendants with situation awareness to enable seamless collaboration and communication. This is done through real time location tracking of flight attendants, a glanceable information display, and haptic feedback of incoming messages and alerts. We present the design of Smart Crew and the development of a high-fidelity prototype. We illustrate the ways in which Smart Crew utilizes our design suggestions and reflect on the open opportunities for collaborative technology design for flight attendants.

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