Even non-aviation enthusiasts may have noticed that the skies look a little different today. As we head into another year since the pandemic first decimated commercial aviation, the large behemoth A380s and Queens of the skies – the Boeing 747 – are a rare sight at airports nowadays. Replaced by more economic and smaller long-haul aircraft, airlines have said a final goodbye to many of their ageing fleet, with China Airlines being the latest carrier to bid a fond farewell to the Jumbo.
This makes sense for many carriers and the A350s and 787s of the world are naturally built for ultra-long treks, already proving their capabilities with direct flights from Australia to the UK, or more recently, the longest one-off ‘domestic’ flight – Tahiti direct to Paris.
However, for many long-haul passengers, this now means that the products they have access to have also changed. One of the reasons the A380s and 747s were so popular was due to the space they gave passengers. Even in economy, cabins felt large and spacious, and there were multiple areas to stretch one’s legs or congregate to break the monotony of a 15-hour flight from the Middle East to Australia or South America for example.
For those in business class, A380s were flying palaces, with majestic bars or even showers for those in First Class. It’s one reason why post-pandemic Emirates will become a carrier of choice for many passengers who are looking to travel in relative comfort.
However, the 787s, 777s and A350s (on the whole) don’t offer such spaces, which means passengers’ only reason to get out of their seat is to visit the lavatory. So we ask the question, should airlines start to invest in more social spaces in their new fleets?
Two psychological factors come in to play in relation to Covid-19. Firstly, those who are potentially nervous of spending too much time in close proximity to others would benefit the opportunity to head to an area on the plane where there is the illusion of more space and fresh air. Secondly, it’s increasingly apparent that future travel will only be available to those who are vaccinated, in which case, concerns will have dissipated and the return of the social bar onboard will be welcomed.
However, there’s only a small selection of carriers that currently provide such social spaces, with China Airlines being one of them. Their 777s and A350s have featured beautifully designed social spaces with libraries, and snacks on offer with stunning detailing that creates a talking point for those on the carrier’s intercontinental journeys.
However, Virgin have had bars on their fleet for two decades, and although the A350 sadly doesn’t feature a bar per-se, it does feature a social space. The 787s, A330s and A350s have all differing products but still create a space for Upper Class passengers that leaves the carrier a cut above its competition.
Even in Premium, passengers are given a ‘Wonder Wall’ which gives passengers the opportunity to stretch their legs and grab a snack.
While American Airlines, JAL, ANA and Qatar have pseudo-social spaces, the only other noticeable carriers to have designed a specific social space include Aeromexico, WestJet and Air New Zealand, which have turned their entry ways into walk up bars.
On long-haul wide bodies, space is still tight, and being efficient with galleys or bars can mean the difference between an additional row of seats or not. However, when positioned at an entry door to an aircraft, these spaces take little additional space and are usually used as a galley area during normal foodservice too making them multi-purpose spaces.
However, with potentially less passengers over the next few years, creating these additional spaces could create market share without sacrificing heavily on load factors. Right now, airlines are going to have to fight for the illusive premium passenger, and as the business class seat landscape is pretty much now balanced, small benefits such as social spaces could swing a ticket purchase.