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If you’re an airline executive, you’ve likely spent a moment or two trying to decode your passengers’ complicated and often contradictory desires. In surveys, air travellers regularly cite cabin comfort and seat pitch as points of dissatisfaction, yet overwhelmingly indicate that the true driver of their purchase is ticket price.
Last year, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that only 28% of passengers were willing to pay more for a better seat.1
In order for airlines to keep fares low and passengers comfortable cabin interior designers are tasked with finding ways to get creative about space.
Thankfully, advances in manufacturing, modern materials and updates to all the trappings that comprise cabin interiors have brought us to a new era. As a result, airlines can now juggle the conflicting requirements of passenger satisfaction, brand differentiation and corporate profits.
1- Winning aesthetics
Passengers want to feel they are getting more value for money. In short, bright and stylish cabins create an impression of luxury and quality that leaves passengers with a greater feeling of well-being. Based on this, they may even choose the cabins of one airline over another.
New, lighter, stronger materials and aesthetically appealing cabin designs now make it more likely you can impress a passenger with a cabin environment that’s comfortable, cost-effective and customizable to suit an airline’s unique brand.
Aircraft manufacturers have taken full advantage of these new technologies in their redesigned aircraft interiors. “Our goal is to ensure that each and every passenger feels as though they are getting an upgrade on every flight,” says Patrick Baudis, Vice President of Marketing at Bombardier Commercial Aircraft. Efficient and aesthetically appealing design gives the feeling of more space.
For instance, OEMs have focused on new ways to use wall paneling to enhance the look of windows, making them appear larger. Advances in LED technology now mean that cabin lights can be mood lights too, enabling airlines to customize the cabin environment based on the time of day for a more peaceful and relaxing passenger experience.
2- Right-sized bins
More restrictive checked baggage policies have led to a crunch in the passenger cabin as fliers jockey for overhead bin space. As a result, bins are being redesigned to address this pain point for customers.
Now, even regional jets have bins that fit standard North American carry-on bags. For instance, those on Bombardier’s new Atmosphère cabin on the CRJ Series can accommodate bags that are 40% larger than typical airline dimensions. The airframer has done this without taking space away from seated passengers.
The upside here is three-fold – passengers get the space they need to bring a bag onboard; airlines don’t have the fuss, hassle and added labour cost of convincing passengers to sky check bags at the gate; and passengers are less likely to notice the difference between a mainline flight (on a bigger aircraft) and regional flight (on a smaller aircraft). The experience – from seats to overhead bins – is now more comparable.
3-Keeping everyone in mind
Putting humans at the centre of cabin design has never been a one-size-fits-all proposition. Both airframers and airlines will have to becomemore inclusive when it comes to almost everything – from seating to lavatories.
Today, even lavatories on the biggest wide-body jets can be tricky for the average passenger to access. And, for persons with reduced mobility (PRM), going to the bathroom can be daunting. A leading advocacy group for such passengers says that 52% of Americans older than 65 have some form of disability.2 These travellers must be accounted for.
Recent advances in lavatory design have allowed engineers to build wider, more accommodating doors for those who might need them. More hygienic features such as touchless faucets and anti-bacterial surfaces along with easy-to-manipulate controls improve the overall experience. From an aesthetic perspective, new lighting and optional windows make a bathroom break at 30,000 feet more appealing – for everyone.
4-Everyone means everyone
Thoughtful interior design must also take cabin crew into account. That’s why the placement of monuments and crew areas truly matters. Ensuring that flight attendants have ample room to move and that monuments in the cabin are easily accessed can reduce stress for front-line employees – and make it easier for them to deliver better-quality service.
In short, ergonomic and easy-to-use design allows an airline’s most important ambassadors to focus on passengers’ needs and promote an airline’s unique brand of service.
Still, cabin crews aren’t the only airline team members to keep in mind.
As demand for premium seats varies from route to route, it’s essential for airlines to have flexibility to maximize profitability. To solve this, some OEMs are now building easy-to-move dividers between economy and premium cabins, which means maintenance crews can easily reconfigure a cabin to meet shifting demand for seat types. Additionally, galley and cargo areas offer multiple configuration options, allowing an airline to customize aircraft to suit specific markets.
5- Keeping everyone connected
It’s predicted that, within the next three years, more than 17,000 commercial aircraft will offer passengers some form of connectivity, which is a significant increase from 6,500 aircraft in 2016. Even low-cost carriers (LCCs), once adamant that in-flight connectivity was an unnecessary frill, are acknowledging that Wi-Fi is absolutely necessary in order to compete.
Some inflight Wi-Fi providers, such as Gogo and Panasonic, are developing systems to personalize a passenger’s experience. Now, travelers can access internet and on-demand entertainment options with their handheld devices, even on regional jets, where seatback inflight entertainment (IFE) systems haven’t typically been installed. This creates even more continuity between an airline’s mainline jets and the smaller regional aircraft. Now passengers can expect everything from the smaller types that they do from the big ones.
The world of commercial aviation, from mainline to regional jets, is forever evolving to meet the requirements of ever-demanding airlines and the people who keep those airlines flying. From passengers to crew, it’s important that cabin design responds appropriately and empathetically to these demands. If done properly, it bodes well for both people and profit.