A graduate industrial designer has created a concept of what premium economy class could look like in future if airlines were willing to develop his idea.
Matthew Cleary, who recently completed an Industrial Design course at Bournemouth University (UK), came up with the idea to create seating in pods of three – of which two seats rotate – to allow passengers to sit closer together or further apart.
Other elements include a personal closet that opens out on one side of each cluster of seats that could hold pillows, jackets and other personal belongings.
“The concept addresses a number of [passenger] needs, namely removing hand luggage and the way the seats are staggered and can be rotated towards or away from each other, which creates either a social element or privacy,” Cleary says.
While the concept wouldn’t look out of place in a business class cabin and is not a true scale of the space airlines would use in premium economy – something that Cleary agrees with – he notes: “The design is not about cramming in passengers, but giving airlines a little more freedom and offering more to passengers on a number of levels.
“The pods are staggered so that passengers can have their own personal zone and direct aisle access. When the seats rotate outwards, passengers can enjoy increased legroom.
“And to address issues with loading hand luggage into the overhead stowage bins, the hand luggage has been integrated into the seat surround modules for easier access.”
Mood lighting is also an important feature of the design to create ambiance, he says: “Mood lighting is playing a huge part in the cabin environment with airlines such as Virgin America and Emirates.”
The seating concept also includes separate social areas and would be suitable for widebody aircraft such as the A380, says Cleary, who completed a one year industry work placement with AIM Aviation: the British aircraft interior firm behind the world’s first physical in-flight duty free shop on board a Korean Air A380.
“With the large spaces offered on platforms such as the A380, social seating areas will be expected more in premium areas of travel, if not in economy class too,” he says.
Cleary says he hopes to turn his idea into an industry talking point so that design elements may one day be taken and evolved in future premium economy cabins.
“Many airlines are showing increasing interest in developing their premium economy cabins.
“In the short term, I think the future of cabin interiors is about making small differences in areas such as comfort and functionality, and in service that will distinguish airlines and encourage loyalty among passengers.”
Premium Economy taking off
In reality, the outlook for premium economy class is looking interesting, as more airlines introduce the mid-tier cabin to cater for travellers – particularly those who travel on business – seeking more elbow room and space to recline without paying high business class fares.
The take up of premium economy cabins has been mixed, with Middle East-based airlines Emirates and Qatar Airways – keen not to cannibalise their luxury products in Business and First Class – showing little interest to-date in offering a middle ground.
In America, Delta’s version of premium economy, offered on its transatlantic flights, offers little in the way of a real upgrade on its economy product.
The front rows in economy have been converted with seats offering an extra four inches of legroom – plus a bit of extra recline and an AC power outlet in the seat.
In Europe, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offer more legroom than in economy in a small, private cabin behind business class– although the toilets are shared with economy passengers. British Airways recently upped the ante by upgrading the in-flight menu for premium economy travellers, who can now dine on business class meals in their seats.
And in Asia, Cathay Pacific has invested in a new premium economy cabin on board its new fleet of 777-300ER (Extended Range) aircraft.
The Hong-Kong-based airline has focused on adding more functionality in the seats – which feature a coat hook, a small space to stow electronics, in-seat power outlet and fold-out cocktail table. The fare also includes priority check-in, boarding, six inches of extra legroom over economy and 25kg luggage allowance compared to 20kgs offered in economy – below the average offered by most long-haul airlines.
The only airline to break the mould of standard premium economy design is Air New Zealand, which offers ‘spaceseats’: a pair of seats that can be tilted towards or away from each other. The middle pair are angled away from each other with a console table separating the two, while the two pairs on either side of the cabin are angled towards the windows.