'Mindful' things: Airlines aim for friendlier skies

A commercial airliner lands at Washington Dulles International Airport.
Getty Images
A commercial airliner lands at Washington Dulles International Airport.

It's stressful in the air nowadays, but some airlines are making new efforts to ease the pain.

Much of the recent news associated with flying is of the bad variety and has frayed the nerves of travelers and airline workers alike. That has made some carriers redouble their efforts to put the friendly back into flying the skies.

Recently, Hawaiian Airlines became the first U.S. carrier to attain Platinum status for Fast Travel Implementation from the International Air Transport Association, which lauded the carrier's wide menu of stress-busting initiatives that make checking in and tagging bags easier.

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In conjunction with new A380 service between San Francisco and London, British Airways has rolled out a new health and wellness campaign that offers tips on healthy eating and videos that encourage travelers to reduce stress by being "mindful" fliers.

In an effort to help passengers improve their mindfulness, BA decided to introduce in-flight videos on the topic on flights between San Francisco and London. "The San Francisco community is an early adopter of mindfulness and realizes the importance of integrating the practices into everyday life," said Caroline Titmuss, VP of Americas Marketing for British Airways.

"Some of the biggest Silicon Valley companies [Google, for example] are even offering special classes to their employees," she added.

Be mindful of mindfulness

Best & worst airlines
Best & worst airlines   

So why all the touchy-feely behavior? It may be part of an attempt to address the growing problem of air rage—particularly as the costs of travel keep rising. New surveys show that travelers don't necessarily think the money airlines are making translates into better service.

Amid the frustration, enter the gurus of mindful behavior.

"The mindfulness techniques are calm, breathing exercises for internal focus and greater self-awareness," said San Francisco-based Mindfulness Consultant Mark Coleman. His videos are now featured on BA's website.

He adds that stress-busting before and during flights helps create "a calm, clear state of mind so that [fliers are] able to handle distractions with poise and ease." Mindfulness while traveling not only helps passengers stay calm during flights, he says, the exercises can also help reduce jet lag after touchdown.

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"Reduced stress, improved mental and physical well-being and clarity of mind are all factors that allow travelers to feel better after a long trip," Coleman added.

The initiatives coincide with National Stress Awareness Month, which falls in April and comes at a time as consumers are taking a dim view of the airline industry.

In its annual Airline Quality Rating,Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University researchers ran the numbers on airline mishaps. They found that numerous complaints about mishandled baggage, customer complaints and on-time performance—all big factors behind traveling stress levels—led to a decline in the industry's overall ratings last year.

"It is easy to understand why passengers and many of the airline employees they encounter are not happy and are significantly frustrated," said Brent Bowen, study co-researcher and dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle.

"With the high profits being realized by airlines, it is evident they are not investing in customer service and restoring employee concessions given up during the economic decline," he added.

—Harriet Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas . Follow Road Warrior at @CNBCtravel.