Innovation and Design – Where are Airlines Heading?

Innovation and design have been key areas for many airlines interested in diversifying their offerings in order to engender customer loyalty and lure business travellers. Technological innovation, in turn, has markedly transformed the air travel experience. With consumers making more informed decisions when purchasing thanks to social media and price comparison websites, quality of service and product offering are among the major criteria for travellers when choosing an airline, especially when travelling long-haul. Innovation – in the form of new technologies, design and value-added services – is accelerating as airlines race to stimulate demand. The industry thus remains a hotbed for technological launches and innovations, supported by a strong base of tech adopters. Consumers’ evolving lifestyles have resulted in the conception of innovations such as touchscreen computers, e-books and portable multimedia players, which many airline operators are introducing as part of their on-board service.

Chain Reaction

Carriers such as Singapore Airlines, Emirates Airlines and JetBlue are among those venturing into this new era through innovative design, cabin upgrades and the introduction of new cabin perks for travellers. For example, Singapore Airlines invested more than US$150 million in late 2013 in the introduction of new seats and an in-flight entertainment system on its Boeing aircraft on the London-Singapore route. According to corporate sources, the seats feature a fixed-back shell design with curved side panels and also offer more leg room. In addition, ergonomically sculpted cushions and additional mattress layers are being provided by the airline in an effort to offer travellers a greater level of comfort.

JetBlue is another carrier interested in boosting its design appeal. ‘Affordable luxury’ on board appears to be an attractive concept as the business class tickets introduced by these low-cost carriers (LCCs) are cheaper than those of traditional airlines. This way, LCCs can lure away from traditional airlines economy customers who can afford a slightly more expensive ticket for a higher-end experience.

The low-cost operator is taking advantage of this new trend by introducing in 2014 business class seats on its planes. In particular, the carrier will launch 16 Thomson Vantage lie-flat business class seats, with some of them also being equipped with sliding doors to help increase privacy. In addition, the airline seats will offer a massage function, cushions with different levels of firmness, as well as 15-inch widescreen televisions.

Emirates Airlines is unrivalled in its efforts to provide excellent customer service to travellers. It has introduced the ‘Emirates Executive‘ service on board its A319 aircraft, which offers 10 private first-class suites which feature perks such as a shower spa, a personal mini-bar and a 32-inch screen entertainment system, among other extras.

Delta Airlines is also differentiating its offer, not only by introducing mood lighting which changes colour and intensity as well as providing ambient background music on-board, but also venturing into a partnership with Westin Hotels & Resorts to deliver “Westin Heavenly In-Flight Bedding”, all part of an effort to help busy travellers get a good night’s sleep.

Innovations are also being adopted by airports, which are seeking to improve comfort for travellers and reduce stress levels when going through security checkpoints. For example, in the US, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport have been working with SecurityPoint Media to improve the ambiance at its security checkpoints. The use of more luxurious furniture (eg leather chairs), audio speakers and radio channels providing the appropriate ‘tranquillity’ sounds, as used by some of the leading hotel operators such as Marriott, have all been adopted in an effort to convey a sense of calmness and reduce annoyance arising from long waiting times and queues.

No Turning Back

Innovation is about defining what consumers want and in turn tailoring one’s product offering to those desires. Airlines are responding to this in an attempt to stay ahead of the game. Novelty and digital technology applied to new products will readily attract consumers as they offer increased quality, convenience and style. As consumers continue to demand more technological advancements, the launch of new products and services with features exceeding current expectations will likely gain more attention and ultimately attract more passengers.