Successful interior design not only looks good, it makes occupants feel comfortable and productive. So what could be a greater challenge than applying such criteria to that classically uncomfortable of interior environments — the airline cabin?
This was the challenge handed to San Francisco architecture firm SMWM when they were hired by American Airlines to rethink interiors for airline travelers. Under the direction of SMWM design principal Lamberto Moris, they collaborated over a two-year period with the airline's Inflight Products Group, Design Acumen of London, and Britax Rumbold, UK. Their result is a complete cabin overhaul including an updated first class section to reduce the inconvenience of hours spent "in steerage."
The design team worked with passenger research data suggesting that most travelers think of flight time as lost time. The team studied precedents in corporate jet interiors and classic luxury rail cars. Their result is a modular system for elite travelers that comfortably supports the most common modes of in-flight activity: eating, sleeping, reading, relaxing, and working.
In the "Flagship Suite," a swivel seat is fitted with two oversized fold-out working tables, a personal reading light, a laptop powerport, an individual phone with satellite communication, and a modem connection port. The seats can be configured for face-to-face companion dining or conferencing with up to four people. The seats are fitted with a surrounding privacy screen and convert to what is claimed to be aviation's largest fully flat sleeping position. When both arm rests are dropped, the bed becomes 30.5 inches (77.5 centimeters) wide and 6-foot-6-inches (198 centimeters) long.
A new color palette was inspired by American's silver fuselage and red and blue logo. Materials were selected for comfort (fabric) and appearance (leather). The tailored seats feature a back cover of sewn leather, and a fabric covering on both the seat bottom and lumbar support pillow.
Unique to the first class cabin are double-door storage compartments underneath the seats. The two doors swing open for easy access and prevent contents from moving around and straps from getting into the aisles.
American Airlines introduced the cabin redesign with its adoption of two new aircraft types — the Boeing 777-200IGW and the Boeing 737-800. Business-class passengers and those in the main cabin will benefit to a lesser degree from redesign by SMWM, but those international travelers richly supported enough to be able to fly first class will enjoy the height of comfort and productivity.
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