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First class has an image problem. With Business class reaching previously unheard levels of luxury, First is just not looking as attractive and exclusive as it once did.
But top designers at Seymourpowell, London, have come up with a solution which promises to put the First back in First class, while leaving room on the plane for an up-scale Business class experience.
The design firm’s First Spaces is a radical re-think on the way these two cabins are laid-out on the aircraft.
It proposes a blend of double and single suites, suited to individual travelers or couples, all offering a comfort, elegance, and most importantly: privacy.
“The difference between First and Business has become eroded, and privacy is the most important thing for First class passengers,” Dick Powell, Chairman of Seymourpowell, tells Skift. “They don’t want to be seen and they don’t want to be talked to.”
The First Spaces concept—a finalist in this year’s Crystal Cabin Awards—consists of individual private cabins, of varying sizes, around a central hall and designed to create visual interest.
There are two double suites and four single cabins in the space. Seymourpowell suggests that airlines can sell the two doubles for either single or double occupancy.
It breaks the box of every cabin to date, and introduces a design aesthetic closer to a VIP aircraft or a boutique hotel.
As Powell explains, the cabins of varying size fit and individual flyer’s needs—rather than fitting every flyer, regardless of needs, into to a uniform cubicle.
“It’s more analogous to the experience that we have in a hotel, where you pay more for more space,” Powell explains.
Powell believes there are lot of people who travel in First class today, for whom paying a little more for a better First is easy. But these customers may find today’s First inadequate, unappetizing.
“For me, there is a need for ultra luxury aircraft. Not on every airline, but there’s definitely a need for that kind of travel,” he says.
Powell also says this alternative cabin arrangement will demand a new, more personalized air travel experience. He believes technology can provide solutions.
“There is a whole confluence of technologies emerging which allow a new level of service,” he says. “Because passengers travel frequently, we can build a picture of what they like: their favorite drink, their food preferences, etc.”
With a digital passenger profile prepared in advance, and crew equipped with digital devices, a trip services schedule can be adapted to suit each passenger’s preference. Flyers can easily modify their menu of services, digitally, from inside their private suites.
While the initial design was conceived for the upper deck of the A380, Powell says it can be adapted to other aircraft.
Commercial Vs. Private
Asked whether passengers who could afford this level of luxury on a commercial aircraft wouldn’t just hire their own jets, Powell says no.
“There’s a massive difference in cost between traveling in First and by private jet,” he says. “There is a good solid market of people who can pay for First but would not pay for a private jet.”
But Powell believes this goes beyond a matter of traditional cabin class divides, or travel budgets, to travel lifestyle preferences.
Changing luxury traveller expectations require that airlines start to think differently about how well they treat their highest revenue customers.
Powell believes the future of making top-tier travelers happy could be as simple as leaving tiers behind.
“Creating a new class tier is not difficult to do,” he says. “What we’re doing is creating a new paradigm for travel.”