Matthew Jensen, Architectural Consultant, Fraiserline, looks at how luxury air travel has changed over the decades and what’s next.
In the world of aviation design, the aesthetic of aircraft cabins was historically fairly universal across the leading travel brands. Differentiation between carriers was primarily through features such as patterned fabrics, signage and unique catering supplies, etc. In the last two decades, the change within aircraft spaces – primarily first and business-class – has seen a move away from the typical ‘universal seat’, towards something more unique which reflects the trend to demonstrate exclusivity, taste and status. Customers also expect increased comfort, privacy, safety and connectivity whilst flying 35,000 feet in the air.
The customisation of interiors began in the early ’70s with the somewhat crudely themed approaches to first-class spaces, providing intimate social clubs and usually incorporating a bar and dining service. Hard to believe now but on-board smoking was even allowed. The birth of the Boeing 747 “jumbo-jet” allowed airliners to offer open space as a luxury amenity. Around 40 years ago, Pan Am began creating ‘environments’ within the plane’s first-class levels, introducing similar service standards to fine dining bistros and five-star hotels.
In 2003, Emirates challenged convention and revolutionised the first-class travel experience once again, merging influences from five-star hotels and automotive design, boasting privacy, technology, wellness facilities and on-demand multimedia in-flight entertainment.
Within the last decade, the move towards premium travel has continued globally, with competitive demands for the reconfiguration of seating and preferences for adaptable atmospherics, including mood lighting, digital soundscapes, daylight and scented aromas. Finally, technical advances enabling noise reduction from the engines enhanced the appeal of long-haul flight for passengers.
What’s next for aircraft cabins?
One thing we know is that demand for competitive yet exclusive travel concepts is growing, with global airliners offering a wide variety of captivating on-board attractions. One of these is the introduction of on-board in-flight wireless networks, as well as recent relaxed rules on the use of mobile devices during flight.
Over time, first-class cabins have evolved to become privatised havens offering high-speed connectivity, privacy, tranquillity and good quality design. The typical pod-like elements of today have proven to perform effectively for airliners – they are ergonomic and they’re easily adaptable for sleeping, eating and working.
My response to the future of cabin environments sticks with the narrative of privacy and versatility as the primary objectives. The solution comprises a cellular arrangement of enclosed slumber areas, with a particular focus on individual control and climate-controlled airflow. Unlike the standard OEM, this proposal looks to consider the overhead panels as part of the passenger space.
Other features include a discreet refrigerated beverage holder that compensates for ice. From a technology standpoint, the seat automatically connects to the passenger’s device, syncing all apps, media, contacts and messages with the aircraft network, and intelligently creating a user profile that can be discovered by surrounding first-class passengers on-board as well as the airline’s concierge platform.
The architectural layout of seating aims to encourage passenger movement during flight, allowing travellers to pass through the aisle without causing disturbance to others.
The front bulkhead between the cabin and the galley contains an informative interactive touch-panel with adaptable content. This interface provides a virtual “shop window” allowing passengers to order duty-free commodities such as jewellery, electronics and fashion accessories – a dynamic on-board retail experience supported and hosted by retail partners.
This system also provides content to a virtual on-board health diagnostic service, addressing the risk of deep vein thrombosis and muscular stiffness during flights.
These are just a few of the areas in which airline brands are looking to invest, ensuring they generate world-class immersive brand experiences in the air.
In the last decade, we have seen rapid advances in on-board hospitality and aviation technologies, shaping passengers’ expectations for a unique brand experience. In terms of the future, the passenger environment will only continue to push boundaries.