Skift Take

If designers and trends watchers keep pushing airlines to think beyond the Class-Divide cabin, we might see more imaginative structuring of the aircraft cabin on the major carriers too. Time will tell.

Thomson Airways — which helps define leisure travel in Europe — has thought outside the fuselage when planning its new cabin interiors for its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, bringing the coziness of travel by train to the skies.

There’s lots of talk of intermodal travel these days, but that usually involves one form of transport taking you directly to another seamlessly. Instead, Thomson blends the best of two modes of travel into what promises to be a unique travel experience in the skies.

The leisure airline says this forms part of “a five-year vision to change the face of holiday flying.” It will introduce new, more efficient and comfortable aircraft, add more long-haul destinations and introduce “innovative on-board product and service concepts,.” the airline states.

Thomson Airways announced that it will add two more Dreamliners and take delivery of 47 new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft by 2020, modernizing Thomson Airways’ fleet as one of the youngest in the UK, at an average age of just five years.

The Dreamliner will allow Thomson Airways to extend its long-haul range, flying to remote destinations, including the only direct flight from Europe to Costa Rica on the 787 in November 2015. The leisure carrier is also considering expanding destinations in the Eastern Caribbean to islands such as St Lucia and Antigua, in the Antilles to Bonaire and Curacao, and in Southeast Asia to Vietnam and Malaysia.

The cabin developments on the airline’s 737 MAX aircraft are intended to enhance the passenger experience on short- and mid-haul routes.

The Family Booth concept in the Thomson cabins would allow parents and children, or friends, traveling together to sit face to face, enjoying conversation and a shared dining experience with a folding table between them.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen the lounge seating concept — in fact it was a feature of the Southwest Airlines cabins for years — but Thomson expressly intends to target this toward people traveling together, which turns the concept from an awkward face-to-face with strangers to a pleasant coming together of families.

Other family friendly features of the new Thomson concepts include treats for the kiddies, which result in a more pleasant flight for the adults. An on-board kids’ club will include Thomson and First Choice child care with “a fully trained member of the crew to help parents keep the kids entertained with arts, crafts and quizzes that relate to the destination,” the airline states.

Thomson has also developed a concept to make flying more pleasant and comfortable for couples as it is introducing a triple seat with a multi-function folding middle seat.

Thomson’s Duo-seats are seats designed for lovers; comprising three innovative pod-style seats which become two with a table for champagne, in-seat charging and mood lighting.

The folding middle has was a popular feature in vintage aviation, and still flies on some carriers with an extra-narrow middle in business class, but the full-sized middle will afford Thomson flexibility to sell the seats according to demand from singles.

Beyond seating, Thomson has introduced an onboard snack bar where its Premium passengers will find drinks and snacks.

Thomson has committed to “a multi-million pound refresh” to complement the new aircraft designs across the existing fleet of 737 and 757 aircraft this winter. It intends “to enhance the levels of comfort and service and provide a more contemporary on-board environment,” Thomson states.

The on-board products and services will also get a refresh.  Thomson revealed innovative new concepts to “help customers plan their trips from 43,000 feet and seamlessly connect the crew with the overseas holiday teams.” It will equip flight crew with iPads to pre-check holiday-makers headed for their resorts, share information on the destination, and pass along any special requests to the resort team from the traveller, and make new bookings.

David Burling, Managing Director of TUI UK & Ireland, said: “Our airline business has traditionally been categorised in the charter sector which is often perceived as the poor relation to scheduled and, in reality, bears little resemblance to the Thomson Airways experience today.

“Our overall goal is to make travel experiences special and, as the flight marks both the start and end of the holiday, we see it as an integral part of the whole holiday experience.

“That is why we want to want to define and lead a new category of flying – the holiday airline category. This describes an airline designed for the specific needs of the holiday maker and fully connected to the holiday experience in the destination.

“We’ll achieve this by continuing to invest in our fleet, in state-of-the-art aircraft like the 787 Dreamliner and 737 MAX, in our on-board technology connecting the flight experience to that in resort and in product and service innovations that are entirely relevant to the holidaymaker both today and tomorrow.”

What is remarkable is that Thomson has been so flexible in its thinking and observant of some alternative cabin concepts which have been discounted for years as impractical l–and figuring out ways in which they could work well.

They would work well for Thomson because of its unique passenger mix, business model and niche market. Leisure airlines sell to travelers who often fly in groups. The major scheduled commercial carriers have to consider individual demand for seats, and might not find some of these concepts practical.  At least, they haven’t in the past.


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Photo credit: The new family cabin on Thomson Airways. Thomson Airways

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