Boeing’s Customer Experience Center (CEC) in Renton, Washington, was designed to showcase Boeing aircraft to potential customers. Opened in 2005, the CEC averages 400-500 visits per year. In a typical week, the CEC hosts an average of 500 people, while a busy week can see as many as 1,500 people. The majority of visitors are customers, but the center—which is not open to the public—also hosts media, government, aviation industry and internal guests.
The CEC space includes mockups of Boeing 737 and 787 interiors along with a Customer Solutions Studio focused on aftermarket services. Kent Craver, regional director, cabin experience and revenue analysis, says the CEC is all about physically experiencing the planes and feeling what it is like inside the aircraft. “Pictures don’t relay the effect of the very deeply informed design we use in our interiors,” says Craver.
On display at the CEC are the results of scientific and behavioral research Boeing conducted to determine what motivates customers when they fly. The first part of this research involved conducting focus groups worldwide, which found that people were flat out bored when they flew. Craver says Boeing wanted to find something universally engaging to reconnect people to “the magic of flying.” Boeing also wanted to separate the stressful parts of travel, such as lines and security, from what happens in the air.
To create a more welcoming feeling, Boeing made choices about the aircraft architecture and lighting. On the 737, a lowered entryway opens into a larger interior space, which gives a “cathedral” effect that makes the ceiling appear taller. Boeing reshaped window side walls to make windows seem bigger without actually changing the window structure. Craver says the windows in the 787 are larger thanks to the composite fuselage, which provides lighter-weight reinforcing than would be necessary for comparably sized windows on an aluminum fuselage. The larger feeling is amplified by the higher placement of the windows, which allows passengers to see windows while sitting anywhere on the aircraft.
Dynamic lighting plays a huge part in Boeing’s design choices for these aircraft, since lighting can affect things such as mood and how food looks. Craver says Boeing followed “the sky philosophy” in its lighting choices, which combines blue light at the top with white light below to give a feeling of being “in the clouds.” Boeing employees at the CEC can create lighting “scenes” for customers, such as one informally called “desert sunset” that imitates its namesake with dark blue lighting up top and orange lighting on the bottom. 737 aircraft are delivered with eight standard lighting scenes, although customers ultimately choose their own standard lighting.
Other design innovations on display are new first-class seating configurations to allow full-flat functionality without reducing the number of seats and Boeing’s new pivot bins, which help open up ceiling space on the aircraft. The latches on these pivot bins open in multiple intuitive ways, which Craver says increases the ease of operation and lessens passenger anxiety.
To take research a step further, Boeing teamed up with Oklahoma State University to look into ways to lower the effects of altitude on the human body while flying. Using the university’s pressure chamber, flights anywhere from 2.5-20 hours long were simulated with varied pressure and study participants were asked about their altitude symptoms. The study ultimately determined that lowering the cabin pressurization to an altitude of 6,000 ft. helps mitigate the negative effects of altitude for passengers, so Boeing designed the 787 with that height as the maximum internal altitude.
Additionally, Boeing used scientific research to combat symptoms associated with dry air, such as headaches and eye irritation. In addition to slightly increasing relative air humidity, Boeing implemented an internal gaseous filtration system on the 787 to get rid of contaminants in gaseous form that contribute to these symptoms.
Boeing says the combination of pressurization, gaseous filtration, increased relative humidity and new smooth-ride technology to dampen high-amplitude vertical turbulence has resulted in passengers reporting that they feel physically better after flights.
The grand finale of the CEC is the Customer Solutions Studio, which can be digitally rebranded to fit the logos and color schemes of whichever airline customer is visiting. The studio includes displays showing retrofit options, information about Boeing Global Services, a 787 flightdeck simulator and 3D screens to show interior mock-ups.
Craver says that Boeing is still seeing strong sales despite delayed aircraft retirements because airlines want to grow and add capacity, particularly through upgrades and reconfigured aircraft.
Boeing Global Services supports over 12,000 aircraft on a daily basis.