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Cabin Upgrades Are Getting More Common and Smarter

Well-planned upgrades can earn substantial profits.

With older aircraft flying longer, updating as well as refurbishing their interiors is getting much more important. A lot can be done, especially but not limited to premium cabins.

Airline cabin upgrades are becoming more substantial and frequent, particularly among full-service carriers, says Matt Round, chief creative officer of British design consultancy tangerine. But low-cost carriers are also doing cabin upgrades, partly because majors are raising customer expectations and partly because LCCs that started in the 1990s are due for cabin refurbishments.

One aim of an upgrade is differentiating the airline’s brand. “This has been successful in premium classes, [but] few airlines have addressed this universally across the entire plane,” Round observes. “Most airlines look at each section or cabin class in isolation from one another, which can create an inconsistent brand identity for passengers travelling on different planes and different classes.”

To avoid this inconsistency in a recent project for Gulf Air, tangerine considered every touchpoint of customer journeys, from lounges to cabins interiors, introducing a modern and sophisticated identity. “This was expressed throughout the plane, from rich brown leathers evocative of a falconry glow to the distinctive feather pattern and iridescent graphic on the bulkhead that reinterprets Bahraini tradition in a contemporary fashion,” Round explains.

The designer is also proud of tangerine’s Club World seat for British Airways. “The new Club World business class allowed passengers to travel in a different way and enabled new behaviors not previously seen in this class. . . . For the first time, people could lie down flat in business class and have a space that meets different needs at different times throughout the flight.”

Club World’s Yin-Yang format offered a dense eight-abreast formation, protecting the aircraft’s seat count. Round says Club World gave passengers clear reasons to travel with BA and secured repeat business. He estimates it yielded revenue gains of £200 million in its first year. “If you get cabin programs right, the commercial value to the airline can be astounding.”

Another recent cabin design that has captured people’s imagination is the Q-suite, which Round calls “an attractive cabin and a genuinely distinctive formation that is right for Qatar and its customers.” 

Good cabin design can also provide a good experience for the crew. “By making it easier to operate and improving working conditions, design has the potential to enable staff to perform to the best of their ability in a happy and safe environment, which in turn, will improve the overall experience for the passengers,” Round argues.

The tangerine exec says really good cabin designs for new aircraft can be frustrated by tight delivery schedules set by airframe manufacturers. Setting aside enough design time before delivery starts enables better definition of problems and smarter solutions, plus getting buy-in from all airline staff. That logic would also apply to planning the modification of old aircraft well before they hit shops.

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