By Rob Russell
Since the bounce back of the aviation industry, after the covid lockdown, and with more passengers returning to the allure of air travel, airlines are spending a great deal more time and money to develop cabin layouts, thereby ensuring that passengers are able to enjoy the trip, whilst at the same time maximizing the revenue earned on each flight.
The airline industry is constantly seeking the delicate balance between passenger comfort and maximizing revenue by packing more passengers into their aircraft. Airlines must carefully consider various factors when designing their cabin interiors, including amenities, seating arrangements, and passenger capacity and many of the world’s airlines, be it the legacy ones or the low-cost carriers are spending a great deal of time and money on research and development of their cabins.
Noise reduction technology, improved cabin insulation, and acoustic comfort features are some ways employed by airlines to minimize disturbances and create a peaceful cabin environment.
Dimmable LED lighting systems, designed to simulate natural light, help reduce jet lag and create a soothing atmosphere, especially on long-haul flights. Some airlines are even resorting to using lighting systems to reinforce their branding, such as Azores Airlines’ upcoming ‘rainforest’ lighting feature.
Cabin air quality and temperature control systems are also optimized to enhance passenger well-being throughout the flight. For example, the Boeing 787 has a lowered cabin altitude of 4,000 feet, compared to most airliners’ cabin altitude of 8,000 feet, when cruising at the upper levels. Lower cabin altitudes reduce the fatigue factor and ensure passengers arrive considerably more fresher and relaxed, at their destinations.
Developing improved entertainment options
Upgraded amenities and in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems are also an important contributor to passenger satisfaction. Airlines are now offering a range of options to keep passengers busy during their journey. High-definition seatback screens, extensive on-demand entertainment libraries, audio channels, and interactive games are now often found on aircraft.
Many airlines are moving towards allowing passengers to connect their own devices to the IFE system, through the use of wifi systems. These wifi systems are replacing the complicated and cumbersome IFE systems, often found on older generation aircraft, which saves weight and allows airlines to reduce fuel burn. These wifi systems are being further developed to allow passengers to stay in contact with the outside world, via onboard satellite communication systems. For some passengers, dependent on the class they are sitting in, and on some airlines, this is a free option. Other airlines are making use of the facility to charge passengers and grow their revenue. Passengers are becoming aware of this and tend to pick their airlines carefully now, with data communication being high on the list. Individual seat charging facilities and USB ports ensure that passengers can keep their devices powered throughout the flight. These are becoming more and more popular as airlines upgrade their seats, or come as standard on newer generation seats.
Passenger comfort is becoming a key priority, especially for full-service carriers aiming to provide an enjoyable flying experience. Seating arrangements are a critical aspect of cabin design. There is now intense competition between airlines as they opt for spacious seating configurations with generous legroom, wider seats, and ergonomic designs to enhance passenger comfort, all designed to attract passengers away from other airlines and ensure maximum comfort for the journey. Airlines are developing individual private areas for first and business-class passengers. Together with many other options for these passengers, such as lie-flat beds, meals cooked on board and even shower facilities on some aircraft, the pace to attract premium passengers is constantly changing and improving.
While passenger comfort and amenities are vital, airlines must also consider their revenue earned and operational efficiency. To maximize revenue, some airlines opt for higher passenger density configurations by reducing seat pitch and width, as seen among most low-cost carriers. This one-class option is popular for short-haul flights, although with narrow bodies becoming popular for Trans Atlantic flights, even the older generation low costs carriers are looking to introduce two classes or seating arrangements on their aircraft. It has become a careful balance between passenger comfort and the potential to accommodate more travellers.
These airlines may offer two seating classes, including premium options with extra legroom and enhanced amenities, providing passengers willing to pay a higher fare with a more comfortable experience. By offering the choice to their passengers, airlines can balance passenger comfort for those willing to invest in premium seats while accommodating more passengers in the standard economy class. The result is often many businessmen are looking at using low-cost carriers, which previously they were avoided, because of the one-class high-density seating.
Striking a balance
These above strategies help airlines strike the delicate balance between comfort and passenger capacity. Some carriers invest in frequent aircraft upgrades, constantly adopting new seating designs, and technologies that enhance passenger comfort, to stay ahead of their competitors, whilst other airlines prefer to focus on cabin layout optimization, utilizing innovative adaptable seating configurations to create a sense of space and comfort within existing cabin dimensions. This allows for one aircraft to be adapted to serve both high-density routes and also routes, for which the need for business travel is needed and less holiday traffic is carried.
Collaboration with aircraft manufacturers is crucial for airlines seeking to find this balance. Aircraft manufacturers are also spending a large amount of time and effort, to create efficient cabin layouts and seating options that meet airlines' objectives, whilst keeping passenger comfort in mind. It becomes a delicate balance between passenger comfort and revenue earned. Close cooperation ensures that both parties work together to create a cabin environment that aligns with the airline's branding and passenger expectations. Many airlines now have permanent teams involved at aircraft manufacturers assisting in the design and development of cabin layouts.
The need to stay ahead of competitors and ensure passengers' needs are successfully catered for, is a delicate balance, whilst watching the bottom line and ensuring airlines grow and remain profitable.