At first glance it might not seem that President Obama and kid-rocker Justin Bieber have much in common. But both men had just a tad too much altitude going through the doorway of aircraft and -- boom! -- the celebrity noggins got a good crack while the paparazzi snapped photos.
Yep, it is fun to put America's president and Canada's most adorable heart-throb together in the same sentence and call them klutzes, but there's more to the story.
Ask the flight attendants who work on the smaller regional airplanes how often their passengers get an owie for failing to mind their noodles on entering the airplane and you'll hear an astonishing number. Ninety seven percent said they've seen passengers crack their heads, three-quarters of them said the injury involved bleeding, bruising or a bump and more than half of the flight attendants surveyed said they've seen it happen dozens of times.
In the comments section of the survey, conducted by JDA Aviation Technology Solutions, one flight attendant wrote, "Passengers hitting their heads has been discussed with our Director of Safety and the flight attendant management before, but it is another 'Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).'"
Ron Whipple, an air transport specialist, who has 9,000 hours flying the Saab 340 told me he lost count of how many times he banged his head on the door frame during his 18 years of flying for American Eagle.
"Luckily, I had my hat on most of the time," he said with a laugh, "so I didn't get really hurt."
So there is a problem knocking around out there, but getting any attention paid to it is undermined by the fact that no one takes this kind of injury seriously -- up to and including sometimes, the person injured.
Asking the Regional Airline Association for the number of skulls cracked while boarding got me nowhere. Kelly Murphy, the industry's media representative said it "does not keep reports of this nature."
So to quantify the problem, JDA had to ask the folks most likely to know, pilots and flight attendants who work for the regional carriers that are moving 430,000 passengers around America each and every day. Based on these interviews and a lot of what seems to be common sense, it has come up with a low-tech solution that borrows heavily from the baby's crib in the nursery. JDA has created a upholstered bumper that wraps around the upper edge of the hard metal airplane door frame -- and here's the brilliant new take -- they want to sell ad space on the thing as demonstrated in this company photo.
Photo courtesy JDA
Now, one would think that given the airline industry's rush to find newer, better, wilder sources of revenue, which I reported in The New York Times, selling ad space at passengers' eye-level while simultaneously delivering the message that the airline values the cranium above your seat as much as the posterior that's in it, would be an easy sell. But one would be wrong.
Bill Norwood, the executive in charge of the head guard project says the regional airlines loved the idea when it was presented at their annual meeting in Nashville last year but the orders aren't exactly rolling in, even though JDA is offering to give the head guards away. What the company wants is a cut of what advertisers pay to have their message embroidered above the lowered heads of a half million travelers.
The whole project makes me think of that old cartoon in which someone gets knocked out cold and awakens with a light bulb going on symbolizing a brilliant idea. If that someone was a high ranking airline executive, well, maybe then.