SkyRider Airline Saddle Seat – Is FedEx PeoplePak Next?

USA Today’s article profiling the SkyRider saddle-inspired airline seat highlights the continued dehumanization of the air travel experience.

Saddle Flying

Saddles and flying have a long & storied history – not normally providing a pleasant experience for the passenger…
Photo Credit: Duncan Kinney | Flickr

The design rationale provided by Designer Aviointeriors could only be described as falling somewhere between naive and masochistic. “Cowboys ride eight hours on their horses during the day and still feel comfortable in the saddle.”

As a former equestrian, I can assure you that saddles are not generally described as “comfortable” by occasional riders. Let’s agree not to explore the possibilities introduced by clear air turbulence or hard landings… please…

For carriers obsessed with maximizing aircraft cabin passenger density, why not bypass unnecessary evolutionary steps and skip straight to the end game? Pack ’em in.

The editors of the always forward looking (well, not too forward looking, as they are now defunct) Breaking News website ran a great article introducing the FedEx PeoplePak in April, 2000.

Conspiracy theorists eagerly pointed at the political strength of the commercial airline industry lobby, the untimely demise of Breaking News, and the suppression of the FedEx PeoplePak technology as representing inconceivable coincidence? You be the judge.

As a public service, I have re-created the classic Breaking News post, complete with the original images:

FedEx Introduces Overnight PeoplePak
MEMPHIS, TN (April, 2000) via Breaking News – Vol 1 Number 8

Federal Express Corporation stunned the air travel and commercial shipping industries today when president and CEO Theodore Weise unveiled plans to begin shipping live humans as early as April 2001, offering frugal travelers the lowest airfares in U.S. history and sparking heated controversy among top industry professionals.

FedEx PeoplePak Team

ABOVE: Bell Labs' engineering team poses with the revolutionary PeoplePak.

The new service, Overnight PeoplePak®, will rely on the same rock-solid infrastructure and delivery history that have turned FedEx Pak, FedEx Box, and FedEx Letter into household words, as well as breakthrough technology developed exclusively for the international shipping giant. Through an exclusive agreement with AT&T’s Bell Laboratories, scientists and engineers developed the proprietary PeoplePak shipping envelope, which will protect human cargo from the rigors of overnight shipping while still permitting practical global air travel for as little as US$89 each way.

The new envelopes measure 7’×3’×10″ (empty) and are designed to accommodate a single adult male or female up to 230 lbs. Roughly comparable to an oversized sleeping bag, the revolutionary containers consist of multiple layers of synthetic polymer insulation — wrapped around a rigid fiberglass skeleton designed to prevent serious injury from stacking or accidental dropping — and a porous outer “skin” to improve airflow to occupants. Additionally, a flexible flame-retardant membrane just beneath the surface protects travelers from the hazards of flight in non-pressurized cargo aircraft.

Bell Labs expects to have a child-size container available early next year, and plans are reportedly underway for scaled-down models that could accommodate mid- to large-sized domestic pets.

While expensive to manufacture, costing nearly $17,000 apiece, the envelopes are designed to be reused up to 1,000 times, and Weise is betting thrifty travelers will prefer the moderate inconvenience of traveling in a dark pouch to being gouged by ever-rising airline fares.

“I’m confident the Overnight PeoplePak service is something Americans have been wanting for a long time,” said Weise, speaking at a press conference at FedEx headquarters. “Since 1973, FedEx has proven its delivery reliability again and again, and with today’s rising airline costs spiraling out of control, we feel now is the perfect time to give travelers a new option.”

Weise deftly removed the velvet cloth covering a PeoplePak standing nearby and was met with thunderous applause and gasps of amazement. He then stepped down from his podium as other executives began escorting members of the press to the giant envelope for closer inspection.

FedEx PeoplePak Mailer

Even as threatening letters and phone calls began pouring into Weise’s office from outraged airline executives and FAA officials, the stoic executive remained confident.

“I fully expected these reactions from the airline big boys,” he stated firmly. “After all, it’s my intention to take millions [of dollars] out of their pockets, if not more.”

“And as for the FAA,” he continued. “They’re always like this. A couple people accidentally explode during decompression testing and suddenly they’re all over your ass. But I’m sure they’ll come around by April.”

In an effort to exploit the class competition among airline passengers, FedEx will offer three tiers of PeoplePak service. Basic service will offer only the pouch and guaranteed next-day delivery; Extra® will include a pack of peanuts and heating controls in the envelope for added comfort; and Max® — the PeoplePak equivalent of First Class — will feature a myriad of in-pouch storage pockets for travelers’ personal effects, a battery-powered reading light, a Lunchable® snack treat (including juice box), and an ultra-compact Porta-Pottie.

Copyright © 2000 breaking news, A.M.

Note: Much gratitude to Rudy Falcon for having the foresight to capture the images from the original post before the Breaking News site went dark.

Introduction of the SkyRider would have one benefit over the FedEx PeoplePak; it would undoubtedly reintroduce the phrase “Rode Hard & Put Up Wet” to modern airline passengers.

About Robert Cole

Robert Cole is the founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting practice. He also authors the Views from a Corner Suite Blog and publishes the Travel Quote of the Day. Robert speaks regularly at major travel industry conferences, authors articles for leading travel industry publications, advises travel-related startups and the equity investment community. He is an evangelist for the global travel industry.