A long wait at an airport can be a drag, with temporary reprieves from interminable boredom offered by tacky stores and overpriced fast food. For parents with young kids in tow, the experience is even more taxing. With few amenities of home, they must keep their patience intact and their little ones entertained. To do so, most parents reject the restrictive seating in favor of the floor, where babies and toddlers can crawl around and play. The problem is that airport carpeting is neither sanitary nor comfortable. The dead-simple yet ingenious solution: The Whaletale mat, a detachable luggage accessory that folds out to create a hygienic space where a parent and two kids can lounge.
The concept is the brainchild of Daye Kim, a student at California College of Arts, who developed the project in response to an assignment on “transformation and transition.” That brought her to SFO airport, to interview travelers about how they cope with being in a state of physical transition. “Though many of them gave me great insights, none of the struggles could beat the powerful stories of family travelers and what they have to go through in order to get to their destination,” she tells the jury of the Core77 Design Awards, which recently gave her the student prize in its soft-goods category.
From firsthand observations and talking with families, Kim designed an easy-to-clean blanket that could attach to existing wheelie bags; when unfolded, it would provide a sanitary surface for both parent and child, as well as a feeling of discretion. The namesake whale-tail shape came from observing a mother sitting with her legs spread an angle to form a kind of fence to pen in her two children. “Taking the crucial insight to my design direction,” Kim writes, “I made the mat into shape of a whale, allowing a parent to sit on the narrow side with legs stretched out, with kids to freely play sitting right in front on the wider part.” The final size, she says, is roomy enough for the users without “being invasively big for others at the terminal.” She chose waterproof ripstop nylon for the floor side and cozy neoprene for the top.
If that weren’t enough, there’s also a mobile app, to build a community of family travelers who can inform one another on the best locations to set up camp and, no doubt, share their airport frustrations, which even the Whaletale can’t allay.