I remember being on a flight over the holiday season just a few years ago, it wasn’t until we were in the air did anyone realize that the plane’s entertainment system was broken. You could hear the grumblings across the cabin as black screens flickered. Some image would flash saying “Loading” and then again it would go dark. Parents in the rows behind me were frantically looking for magazines snacks to quickly distract their little ones as the flight crew feverishly worked to restore order within the broadcast system. I could feel their desperation, the fight crew were mumbling to each other.. “did you reset it? How many times? Here, let me try!”.
Even my neighbors were starting to sigh, even though the flight was four hours, being trapped in your seat without any distractions just makes you very aware of the minutes ticking by on your watch. I look down, we’ve only left the ground seven minutes and now the flight crew have announced that our on-board entertainment system has malfunctioned and will be unavailable for this flight. The grumbles could be heard loud and clear now, even though the flight crew were preparing for service and remained very upbeat in their announcements.
I pulled out my phone and again checked it out of habit, was it in airplane mode? Yep, did any last minute emails, texts or Instagram posts make it in? Nope. I remembered in that instance, that I had downloaded some movies to my phone some time back. With hidden relief, I pulled out my headphones and fired up the app. At least for me, this flight was going to feel much quicker.
I was deep in the beginnings of the plot and very attentive to my phone, when the in-flight service reached my row and I was asked if there was anything I needed. Having ran out of time to grab something while at the airport, I ordered a complementary beverage and a “how much is that?!” snack box. I mean, come on… 4 ounces of cheese and nuts shouldn’t be $15. Okay, I’ll take two boxes and regret it later.
Now, my dilemma started.
I sat there a second, phone in one hand, lap tray down and loaded full of stuff, and wondered what the hell was I going to do now? Do I stop the movie and return to the low hum of the plane and passengers still strugglingly to occupy their children; which has now turned into negations of rations to keep them quiet?
What felt like forever was only a few minutes and I stared at the back of the seat in front of me, scanning for some engineering way to hold my phone. I reached into the depths of my brain where visualizations started spinning around my head like an episode of “The Good Doctor”, I pictured any way possible to secure my phone. Even if it was only for the next fifteen minutes; long enough, to down one of these boxes.
They were going to hate me… but the airline had provided literature in the head rest pocket of the seat in front of me. I quickly called up the powers of origami and folding the free magazine into a shelf, it wasn’t great… my phone kept sliding around and twice I had to catch it before it crashed to the floor; or worse, my tray… where it would fling everything on me and my neighbors. Let’s not let that happen, I kept thing… as I nervously shoveled food into my face to reduce the amount of time and anxiety.
This experience really got me thinking, there are thousands of phone holders for cars - what about aircraft? Over the following days, I started looking for a holder on Amazon and Google. There were a few, but I kept my recently flight experience in mind as I started ruling in or out designs before making a purchase.
A couple that I considered were like the mangled magazine that I left behind; it was a flat, moldable shelf that you would lock into a tray, a clamping system, or even a clear zipper lock bag “life hack”. Each of these methods required that travelers lost the use of their tray system, was bulky or simply seemed seriously inconvenient. What I really wanted was something that was easy to use, adjustable, multi-purpose, and above all something that would secure my phone. I mean, they're not getting cheaper right?!
I have never designed a product before nor have I ever marketing one, so the thought of coming up with my own concept was scary. Something inside of me wouldn't let it go; I kept drawing up different concepts, and before I knew it, I was ordering 3d printed versions of it for testing. I traveled a lot so I was able to see my product fail often, each failure led to an improvement. I had concepts that required magnets or some complex folding to make it work properly. After a period of months, I finally found a design that would work to my satisfaction. I named it the VuWing Flex, since it was the first version that, well... was flexible, but it relies on its wing for stabilization and quite cleverly, airplanes have wings… and it is the primary use case.
The VuWing checked all my boxes. For one, it was mostly flat, making it easy to travel in my laptop bag; virtually unnoticed until needed. The tension arm kept it adjustable; securing various phone sizes, the tail section acted as a stabilizer and also adjusted the hold pressure. Passing out a few 3d printed demo units, I started getting feedback and learned from other travelers as they discovered even more use cases.
Today, it's never an issue. Every flight, regardless of accommodations and service offerings on board, I have VuWing tucked somewhere in my carry-on, ready for use. I now call the VuWing, "The Perfect Travel Phone Holder" and I hope someday, you will too.