Boeing rights a wrong: the flight attendant button

LE BOURGET, France Tue Jun 21, 2011 11:57am EDT

An airberlin stewardess shows the new call button in the Boeing 737 during 49th Paris Air Show at the Le Bourget Airport, near Paris June 21, 2011. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

An airberlin stewardess shows the new call button in the Boeing 737 during 49th Paris Air Show at the Le Bourget Airport, near Paris June 21, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

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LE BOURGET, France (Reuters) - In the long history of bad industrial design, the flight attendant call button on commercial airlines takes a prominent place.

Usually located next to the reading light button and often indistinguishable from it, the dreaded button causes flight attendants to make countless pointless trips down the aisles every day, only to hear embarrassed passengers say they were just trying to switch on the light.

Not for much longer.

The new interior design for Boeing's 737 passenger jet, the best-selling plane in aviation history, includes an innovation that is as radical as it is obvious: a flight attendant button that is situated well away from the reading light button and actually looks different from it.

"I feel we came up with a really good improvement," Beverly Wyse, Boeing's General Manager for the 737 program, told reporters at the Paris Air Show.

The new 737 "Sky Interior" brings design elements from future Boeing planes such as the 787 Dreamliner and the new 747-8 stretch jumbo to the slowly aging 737.

Besides an identifiable call button and a slightly plusher finishing, the new interior features sophisticated LED lighting and new luggage bins that leave enough headspace for a tall person to stand up in the seats next to the aisle.

Wyse said that 83 percent of the airlines in Boeing's long order book for the 737 opt for the new interior.

Cabin crew will feel the difference in their feet.

"On every flight somebody pushes the wrong button. It is an issue for flight attendants," said Tim Techt, Technical Pilot for airberlin, the first airline to take delivery of 737s with the new cabin design.

The new interior of the 737 is the result of extensive research, which has shown, among other things, that many passengers avoid turning on the reading light for fear of accidentally calling the flight attendant, Boeing Director of Differentiation Blake Emery told Reuters from Seattle.

Could earlier engineers not have imagined a more intuitive position for the call button, which has stumped generations of passengers and earned its own entry on baddesigns.com? (here)

"I can't help but agree that it is not like we needed extensive research to figure that one out," Emery said.

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