Smart design innovations that make life onboard a bit more comfortable

The A380 has 50 percent more floor space than a B747, but on average only has a third more seats, which leaves the remaining 15 percent of space available for larger seats and customized areas. This has allowed airlines to launch flagship products that have generated lots of attention, such as First Class suites, onboard bathrooms, showers, changing rooms, bars and lounges. At the other end of the spectrum, and also as a sign of more modest cabin interiors in leaner times ahead, airlines have gotten creative in designing  small practical innovations that make life a bit more comfortable onboard. Some examples. 

Air New Zealand (ANZ) in January 2010 unveiled a radical new design of the cabins on its new B777-300s, including the ‘SkyCouch’ seat in Economy and the ‘Spaceseat’ in Premium Economy. The airline’s new design also extended to small comfort innovations, such as a ‘slip on pillow’ which goes over the winged headrest in Economy and eliminates the nuisance of pillows falling down and the need for inflatable neck cushions. In Premium Economy, ANZ’s new Spaceseat has no legrests, but instead features a bean bag style cushion, which the airline affectionately calls ‘Otto’ (short for ottoman). Otto can be moved around freely and enables passengers to create their own position for sleeping rather than being restrained by an uncomfortable, stiff leg rest. 

On a long flight, it is advisable that passengers stretch their legs from time to time. SAS took this advice a step further and installed a ‘stretch bar’ between the premium economy and business class cabins, so passengers can stretch their backs as well.

Economy seats on SAS long-haul aircraft have a small mirror integrated in the seat, so passengers can check their appearance (for example when waking up) without having to go to the bathroom. A large number of airlines has also installed mirrors inside overhead bins to make it easier for passenger to see how much space is available for their hand luggage, or to check if they have forgotten anything when leaving the aircraft. The mirrors also allows the cabin crew to inspect the bins quicker. Says one Singapore Airlines flight attendant: “We are no longer stepping on the passenger seat to peek in the bin.”

SAS is also one of few airlines in the world to offer Economy passengers a wide range of magazines onboard long-haul flights. The airline has installed magazine racks in between the economy cabins as well as in between the premium economy and business class cabins. Portugal’s national airline TAP has come up with a different solution to provide passengers with a more varied selection of magazines onboard. At Lisbon Airport, the airline has installed a ‘Leitura de Bordo’ kiosk that hands out magazines to TAP passengers upon presentation of their boarding pass. Each passenger is elegible to receive one newspaper and one magazine (both on short and long-haul flights), whereas premium passengers can choose more titles. The inflight media kiosk also avoids disappointment for those boarding late, when most reading material at the gate is often gone.

A last example comes from ANA, which lends Business Class passengers on routes operated by B767-300ERs (which do not have in-seat power ports) an outboard battery for use with their laptop computers. The battery is compatible with approximately 20 different manufacturers and provides 6 to 8 hours of laptop power. 

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