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With numerous on-board products rolling out this year, Delta found itself facing a seemingly impossible problem: How to increase on-board storage space to house those enhancements without increasing the size of the space?

Students plan our their project
That’s where graduate students from Georgia Tech’s School of Industrial Design came in. Facilitated by Delta’s Global Innovation Center, The Hangar, located on the Tech campus, the airline invited 10 graduate students to come up with concepts to maximize the storage space in the galleys – the space between cabins where most of the food, beverage and other on-board products are stored.

In just 18 days, the students rose to the challenge without changing the galley footprint, all to better serve Delta customers.

The partnership highlights Delta’s ongoing commitment to innovation – this time, from a design standpoint. Maximizing space in the galleys may seem like a small thing, but even seemingly minor improvements can make a difference in the customer experience. 

Planning session for GT Galley Challenge
“Whether we’re offering new products or finding innovative ways to store them on board, Delta and its employees are committed to ensuring customers have a comfortable and enjoyable in-flight experience,” said Allison Ausband, Delta’s Senior Vice President – In-Flight Service. “Our partnership with Georgia Tech supports this ongoing effort by allowing us to work with some of the brightest students to come up with creative solutions on how we can continue to offer an enhanced level of service.”

With the current galley design, food and beverage carts occupy the entire space, leaving little room for new items. The simplest solution – expanding the galley space – isn’t feasible from a cost perspective, but reorganizing the contents within the galley has the potential to offer the airline significant space savings at a reasonable cost.

Students inspect galley carts
“With the various enhancements we’ve made onboard, such as individual water bottles for each customer on international flights, maximizing on-board storage space is a huge priority,” said Melissa Raudebaugh, Delta’s project lead and General Manager – Galley and Fleet Planning. “We’re constantly looking for ways to be more efficient, but sometimes you need an outside set of eyes to come in with a new perspective.”

So, Delta turned to Georgia Tech students to find a way to create space onboard without adding additional galley space.

To do that, the students first had to understand the full scope of the problem, so Delta delivered dozens of fully stocked carts to the Georgia Tech campus for them to unload and investigate. Then, Delta flight attendants visited the students to offer their perspective about the galleys and carts, sharing their likes and dislikes with the current system.

“A crucial part of the design process is understanding what people have problems with,” said Jim Budd, Tech’s project lead and Chair of Tech’s School of Industrial Design.  “What do they get annoyed about? What’s difficult or frustrating to use? Talking to the people who actually use the product helps you develop something that solves the problems they’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis.”

Foam core model of galley with carts
Students also had the chance to see the galley of a Boeing 777 in-person. After their visit, they built a foam core model of the galley in their studio for reference during the design process.

Next, the students moved on to the conceptual stage, where they would come up with their idea and develop a model. For Tech students Atticus and Christina, the solution was simple – redesign the food trays.

“What stuck out to us immediately was that the food trays were taking up more space in the cart than needed,” Atticus said. “The current design of the food trays has a designated spot for hot and cold food, but the hot food is stored elsewhere until it is served, leaving a large amount of space empty in the cart.”

To better utilize the space, the students designed a slightly altered food tray, making “hot food” section into a sliding panel that could be hidden away while in the cart and then easily revealed again when in use. Once the “hot food” panel is closed, the new trays can be stacked in the cart to save space.

Another group of students chose to redesign the cup rack.

Students redesign cup holder
“The current cup rack has a lot of empty space that isn’t used,” said Xiuxiu, a Tech Student. “We played around with the idea of redistributing the cups within the same amount of space and reconfiguring the dividing walls within the rack, which let us add a full two additional cups to the container.”

 All in all, Delta sees the potential to save up to two carts of space on a Boeing 777 if the ideas can be brought to fruition, meaning more room for additional food, beverages and other amenities. The Georgia Tech students saw the short but successful project as a win too, getting to add a Delta project to their portfolio and receiving a model Boeing 777 for their participation.

“Partnering with Delta on this project is a great opportunity for our students to work on a real world project,” Budd said. “We hope that this project leads to other opportunities with the airline in the future.”

In the coming months, Delta’s In-Flight Service team will review the students’ concepts and begin testing their ideas. If the airline chooses to move forward with the ideas, this will be the first project Delta rolls out on board through The Hangar partnership.