By Julie Baxter
Are you sitting comfortably? It is a question that has taken on a whole new meaning onboard, as airlines look beyond their core infrastructure to ‘dress’ seats in increasingly impressive style.
Gone are the days when a pillow and a blanket were enough, in premium cabins at least, now the trend is towards a whole suite of textile products, coordinating and complementary items all chosen to convert the seat into a lush comfort zone, forming an integral part of the cabin’s style.
Qantas A380 First customers, for example, now luxuriate in bedding products created exclusively by Australia’s home and lifestyle brand, Sheridan. In a contract facilitated by Galileo Watermark passenger’s receive what is claimed to be the first ever airline pillow menu, with three choices. It is as part of a suite of 13 products selected for their finest materials including cotton sateen and Tencel, used for its thermo-regulating and sustainable attributes.
On British Airways, passengers receive a suite of branded bedding from The White Company, facilitated by Matrix, which includes a full-size pillow and mattress topper, a super soft, cotton-rich day blanket with satin trim or a full quilted duvet. A day cushion doubles up as a lumbar support and the bedding set is accompanied by a coordinated amenity kit with products from the brand’s ‘Restore and Relax Spa Collection’.
American carriers are in on the act too, with American Airlines now featuring the Casper bedding brand, facilitated by WESSCO International (see page 120). Casper spent over a year researching, testing, and experimenting with prototypes to develop its airline bedding line and each product in the portfolio is designed to ‘maximise rest and comfort’. United too claimed a first-of-its-kind partnership for its Polaris cabin, working with the luxury department store Saks Fifth Avenue for its custom bedding (in two weights), and Delta has an ongoing relationship with the renowned Westin Heavenly hotel brand to create inflight bedding that includes hotel-standard white comforters, blankets and hypoallergenic pillows.
Galileo Watermark’s head of aviation Kenny Harmel comments on this shift towards branded textile suites: “We are seeing an enormous paradigm shift in the industry towards a ‘hotel in the sky’ approach – providing the same comfort, personalisation and choice you’d find in a luxury hotel but at 35,000 feet.
“For the Qantas range the materials were chosen to maximise passenger comfort onboard. The thermo-regulating properties of Tencel, for example, ensures the passenger’s core temperature is stable for longer which, in combination with the softness of the material, provides for a much longer, deeper sleep.”
The suites also have to work in terms of storage and service optimisation – the length of time and complexity of the turn down service for crew, the unpacking and repacking processes.
Galileo Watermark is currently working to develop new materials and applications which improve product durability and increase the number of uses. Harmel adds: “We are working on exciting developments with sustainable and recycled materials as well as channels for repurposing that material once used to give it an additional or, we hope, infinite life cycle. There are huge strides being made in textile development, including type and composition of materials, as well as extra benefits and finishes. Micro-encapsulation which can attach fragrances, skincare actives and anti-microbials to textiles, as well as moisture wicking technology, are all evolving options too.”
Tim Morris, at Mills Textiles, has worked on U.S. bedding suites. He says: “Weight and durability remain key but airlines now see that coordination across a range of products adds hugely to the passenger experience. It ties all the airline’s efforts together far more than a random selection of products. We focus on not only a common or complementary colour palate across a suite but also some linking embellishment, such as a quilting pattern, and develop a range that doesn’t compromise the design and tactility.”
Launderability and performance have to support the proposed aesthetics and while environmental, sustainable and ethical purchasing remain key prioirites, Morris confirms the strongest trend has been towards branded textiles, sponsorship and shared cost ownership.
He says: “We are trying to help our customers with more ‘flexibility’ within their rigid contracts, be it through the potential to change logistical solutions mid-term or to challenge, through specification or design, a refresh throughout the contract. Textile contracts do not lend themselves to short term agreements as production build-up and wind-down means a one year contract may only have a few months of full swing production. Start/stop production is more expensive and does not lend itself to product quality and uniformity.”
He predicts the emergence of more retail-designed textiles onboard and anticipates textile suites for ‘Premium Economy’ could well come next to differentiate this cabin further from standard Economy. His team has also developed a sensory range of products that can be filled with natural grain (e.g wheat) or cherry stones and infused with an aromatherapy scent to support sleep or wake-up.
At Orvec, the team has worked on textile suites for European, U.S. and Middle Eastern carriers recently. Kevin Stamp, md, says: “Improving the quality of passenger sleep is key and bringing home comforts and trends with recognised brands is currently the priority. We work to create appropriate brand alignments that ensure colours are on trend and reflect the airline and its market. We look to include subtle designs, simple colour schemes, soft-to-the-touch fabrics (such as peachskin and microfibers) and discrete branding. Calming colour pallets, simple design features, discrete patterns and branding, and a consistency across the cabins is key to the ultimate cabin image and customer experience.”
He agrees that the suite trend in premium cabins has an effect throughout the aircraft, with colours, designs and patterns echoed in other cabins, albeit in a diluted manner due to cost constraints.
Orvec’s new Luna Linen, for example, uses technology to add futuristic and innovative finishes and will bring the launch of a super soft, spun lace fabric for disposable pillow covers soon.
Not all carriers are switching to the brand alignment strategy. Global-C Inflight Products worked with Qatar Airways on a bespoke top-end bedding range for its Q-Suites Business cabin, supplying an extra large, top-end duvet with a plush velvet-like finish in Qatar’s grey and plum colours to be used when two Business seats convert to a double bed.
Wayne Costigan, director Asia & Pacific, recalls: “The airline was committed to finding the absolute best in breed for every element of its bedding suite so it took a mattress and pillows from Germany, the duvet from us, and designed its signature message pillows in house, working with us to develop the fabric type and printing. We also designed the cushion pad that fits between the seats to create the double bed, which was a very unique challenge.
“Many airlines still want to create something bespoke, something that is linked to their particular seat style and the airline’s branding, focused on aesthetics and comfort but also paying attention to the long-term life cycle, laundering and durability of the product with attention to factors very specific to aircraft use,” he adds.
His team has spent much time working with airline laundering teams to understand their processes and explain fabric care in far greater detail then simply adding a care label. Costigan explains: “Laundries need very precise instructions based on their industrial laundry conditions. The Qatar duvet was 40% bigger than the usual aircraft duvet and cost 20% more so it was important that it had greater durability and a longer rotation period. If an airline is going to invest in really dressing the seat it is vital that everyone involved in the process understands the care needed to get it right.”