Why Fly With iFly?
Falling from a plane 18,000 feet above the earth is a scary thought. That fear keeps most people firmly planted on the ground, never to experience the thrill of freefalling. It’s 2017, so naturally we have the option to do our best Peter Pan in the safety of a glass tube.
I began hearing about indoor skydiving over the past year through friends and radio shows. I was curious, but wanted to experience the real thing first. Then, this past winter, my sister said she wanted to surprise her husband with a trip to iFly in King of Prussia and asked my wife and I to join. We agreed, and I’m glad because I was blown away by the experience. Enough so that I decided to blog about iFly as an example a brand doing it right.
The structure, because of the height of the wind tunnel, looms tall and is immediately strange and recognizable from a distance. It looks like a cross between a nuclear reactor and a castle. As you step into the building, you’re greeted with kiosks that assist in the sign-in process. Once signed in, you talk to the enthusiastic human who gets you weighed, paid and up-sold on a more streamlined helmet and other gear that enhances your experience, but not in an aggressive way.
The interior of iFly has a deliberate “space camp” vibe. It’s industrial, clean and modern. The hard angles of the exterior and the lobby contrast nicely with the round room that houses the wind tunnel.
The space program connection is key here. Most of us never went to space camp and won’t strap ourselves to a rocket to leave the planet earth, but we probably all share a sense of wonder about being an astronaut. That same sort of feeling starts to build up inside of you as the minutes count down to your inaugural flight. iFly’s use of red, white and blue as primary brand colors creates a direct connection to NASA. They take the science of it seriously, too, offering student programs that help reinforce the authenticity of the brand, and drive additional consumers to the experience.
The flights are timed perfectly, so that you are never idle for long. As you’re waiting to be paired with an instructor, you sit on comfortable chairs that encircle the fly zone. As you watch others take their turn in the wind tunnel, the butterflies continue to build. We finally get pulled into a small room with benches and a large TV screen where our instructor gives us a short overview of what we’re about to do, then he hits the lights and puts on a video that goes over the hand signals and safety procedures. The end of the video advertises some of the advanced stunts you can do, should you want to take additional flights.
When the video ends, it’s time to suit up. We’re outfitted with blue overalls, a helmet and goggles. Then we were loaded into a side pocket of the large plastic shoot. Each member of your groups get two sessions in the tunnel, ranging from 30-90 seconds each. There’s an operator just outside the tunnel, sitting at a computer, with a futuristic UI that controls the wind speed and time.
Staying in the proper flying position (legs in a “V”, arms spread and in front of you, palms flat) is surprisingly difficult. The force of the air is so great that I caught myself forgetting to breathe and then having a hard time doing it once I remembered. There’s a lot to think about while you’re in there, but the instructor is coaching you the whole time. Giving you hand signals to help you position your head, feet and hands since you can’t hear anything over the fan.
My favorite part of the experience actually came after our group finished. This is when your instructor (who has thousands of hours in the tunnel) gets a minute in there by himself. What happens during the next minute is breathtaking. He shoots up the tunnel like Superman, disappearing only to come back down at an incredible speed. It looks like he’s going to slam into the netting at the bottom of the tunnel, but he pulls up just in time. The next 50 seconds were all somersaults, airwalks and an assortment of other aerial tricks. When his time came to an end and we all clapped.
This performance served a dual purpose. It wasn’t just straight entertainment; it was an extremely effective way to sell the customer on coming back and spending time in the tunnel. They were able to make an immediate and deeply emotional connection with me, one that would make me tell people of my experience and possibly go back to learn some of those tricks.
You end your time at iFly by getting a certificate that says you mastered the basics. Like most theme parks, you have the ability to take home videos and photos of your experience. The process was easy and it gave iFly the opportunity to grab your email address.
My only gripe with iFly is that their logo, brand font and name feel like a miss. The mark reminds me of a non-profit, specifically Big Brothers and Sisters. The font does feel futuristic, but almost robotic. However, iFly is a great example of how tight operational execution and an exceptional brand experience can often carry mediocre brand visuals and a dated company name.
I’ll leave you with the video of me doing my best to hover. Don’t laugh, you probably couldn’t do much better 🙂