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What do you do when you want to reinvent a premium cabin entirely, to fit the futuristic feel of a state of the art aircraft, and appeal to today’s tech-savvy traveller?
If you’re British Airways, you focus first on user experience.
The airline’s new First suites, pictures of which the airline is keeping under wraps, for now, were specifically created to complement the cabin advances and high-tech feel of the airline’s new Boeing 787-9s.
The design is built around the passenger’s interaction with the space, and considers the passenger’s needs at various stages inflight. The cabin is tailored to create a responsive, intuitive interaction with the seat components, applying interiors and technology hybrid fly-UX thinking.
“Great attention to detail has also been paid to how the customer uses their suite, with each function being controlled by simple, intuitive touch,” says Abigail Comber, British Airways Head of Customer.
The seat and in-flight entertainment console has been updated with a new handset, much like a smartphone, integrated into the seat from which travellers can control their in-flight entertainment. During flight, the handset can be docked so that customers are also able to watch one item, such as the moving map, on the handset and another, such as a film, on the 23-inch fixed screen. This also means travellers will be able to enjoy gate-to-gate entertainment, without having to stow their television for take-off and landing.
This human-tech design feat adopts the best practices of haptic interfaces, features we’ve become accustomed to in today’s with smartphones and tablets, and builds touch-response into the suite.
To get the human touch just right, British Airways paired its own knowledgeable and innovative in-house design team with UX and user-centric interior design experts at Forpeople in London.
“We first linked up with Forpeople in 2005 to work on the new First class cabin, product and service design that we launched in 2010,” explains Comber. “They have a great heritage in high-end design, particularly in the automotive, hospitality, consumer product and furniture industries and that, combined with their experience with us, translated brilliantly to the new cabin for the -9.”
“In 2013, we asked Richard Stevens, one of Forpeople’s co-founders to join us at British Airways to work with us on the future of customer experience design and to help build innovation into our future design strategy. As part of the move, we also strengthened the relationship between British Airways and the agency and a dedicated team was developed to work alongside our own in-house teams,” Comber continues.
“Forpeople continue to be at the cutting edge of customer experience design and so bring great insights and solutions to our innovation process. The -9 proved a challenge as it’s a smaller than the other First cabins with just eight seats, and yet the final result offers great comfort and even more storage space. The space is so cleverly designed that is retains its private and high-quality look and feel, which our customers quite rightly expect from us,” she tells us.
With no images revealed, yet, British Airways gives us tempting renderings and details on trim and finish elements that will complement the First suites’ design.
Leading British suppliers, including Prototrim, developed the high quality soft leather and fabric trim within the suite and London based Pritchard Themis worked on the suite and cabin lighting.
These high-tech suites also pair well with passengers’ own in-flight gadgets, with discreet stowage areas by the armrests hiding convenient power outlets.
There is also a new locker, at eye-level, which is an ideal spot to place tablets, eyeglasses, passport and a personal toiletry case, with a mirror fitted to the inside of the locker door for personal grooming.
For other comforts, British Airways First suites add four new storage areas.
A new ottoman, next to the adjustable footstool, can store shoes, handbags and other personal items, and a personal suiter, for jackets and coats, keeps outerwear looking smart through the journey and can be accessed without the passenger having to leave their seat.
Building on the Dream
British Airways capitalized on the native features of the Dreamliner cabin, which include improved pressurisation so that a flight at standard altitude above 30,000 ft, feels like flying at a more human-friendly 6,000 feet, with better humidity reducing the dehydrating qualities of cabin air, a smoother ride with technology that detects and adjusts to turbulence, and the completely programmable and customisable cabin mood lighting that the Dreamliner introduced to the world.
British Airways will make the most of the Dreamliner’s cabin lighting capabilities by adapting it to the time of day, says Comber, “helping to lull travellers to sleep at night and to wake them in the morning.” LED lighting is backed by the natural light emanating from the Dreamliner’s larger windows, which also offer breathtaking views, and which can be dimmed at the touch of a button.
All these features combine to give passengers a gentler flying experience, regardless of where they’re seated in the aircraft.
The new 787-9, which is 20 feet longer than its 787-8 predecessor, allowed enough room for British Airways to introduce this First cabin onboard, but the airline chose to keep the number of seats to an intimate group of eight–leaving more room for the occupants to enjoy.
Looking Back, this Was Foretold
While the First cabin is still in the production phase, British Airways is being reserved about the revealing images, but the Dreamliner 787-8, which also incorporates British Airways’ and Forpeople’s fly-UX thinking, hint at what we might expect to find onboard.
British Airways’s video tour of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner cabins, introduced in the summer of 2013, offers insights to the its fly-UX design process:
There is also an interactive tour of Dreamliner cabin features on British Airways ‘Our New Planes’ dedicated site.
The British Airways 787-9 Dreamliner will also feature the Club World (business), World Traveller Plus (premium economy) and World Traveller (economy), which fly on its 787-8 Dreamliners, each of which have a host of passenger-friendly comforts, with Fly-UX features nose to tail. The seat map has already been revealed
British Airways’ newest Dreamliner will fly its first route to Delhi starting on October 25, with routes to Abu Dhabi/Muscat and Kuala Lumpur to follow shortly after.