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There are several drivers of long-haul business class seating design. Which of these factors you view as the most important? 

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Happy landings

Crew service

Most airlines are performing well regarding customer satisfaction with the crew service. 60% of 10,032 passengers mention a pleasant crew, with complaints only found in 17% of cases. This 17% is significant as a negative score dramatically reduces the total comfort score of a flight. Although this has been described in previous research, this study shows that it is one of the top three factors influencing the flight comfort. The average score of the flights where comments on crew were positive was 8, while in the case of a complaint this was 3.9.

27% of the passengers of this study do mention pitch, knee space or legroom in their trip reports. If we compare the passengers providing a positive comment on the legroom (11%) with the passengers providing negative comments (16%) the difference between the comfort scores of these groups is highly significant (two sided t-test, p<0.0001, t=13,57). This means that such differences are extremely unlikely to occur by chance. The following provides examples of positive comments made by the passengers. In charter flights, a pitch of 33in is considered “comfortable” as passengers probably expected less space. A smart position of the seat pocket for the magazine at headrest level is also seen as positive. A special seat, for example a seat next to the exit row, having no neighbours or receiving an upgrade to another class are naturally seen as very positive due to the extra legroom.

Occasionally, taller passengers do report astonishment that they fit in the seat as usually they would have difficulty. The ability to stretch your legs under the seat in front of you and change position is also mentioned several times. It is interesting to note that the number of complaints was around 10% both in short- and in long-haul flights, as we expected more complaints in the long-haul flights, as knee space may be a larger problem when sitting longer in this position. However, long-haul aircraft are often equipped with greater legroom.

Hygiene is also strongly connected to aircraft interior comfort. 12% of the passengers mentioned an aspect related to hygiene in their reports. The correlation coefficient with comfort is .69. The average comfort score of those complaining about hygiene was 4 while the score of the passengers giving positive comments was 7.9. Examples of positive hygiene include a clean-looking aircraft, a fresh interior, clean seats, a new company journal, clean windows and a bright refurbishment. Examples of negative hygiene seen in the trip reports include broken seats and IFE, dirty cabins, old cabins, dirty blankets, old and worn seats, toilet smell, food smell, dirt on the chair and dirt in the seat pocket. Even mouldy bread and an apple core in the seat pocket were found, as well as spiderwebs in the window.

So what?

The factors that correlate highest with aircraft interior comfort are “intention to fly again”, legroom, hygiene and crew. This means that passengers with a low comfort score have a low intention of flying again with the same airline. Increasing passenger comfort through measures such as training staff on the importance of their service, ensuring greater legroom and cleaning/maintaining the interior will encourage passengers to use airline again in the future.

The research

This research is described in more detail in the book Aircraft Interior Comfort and Design. The outcome of this survey is compared with other research on aircraft interiors and other scientific knowledge on the seat is added as well as suggestions for design.

About the author: Peter Vink is research manager at TNO, the second largest applied scientific research organisation in Europe. At TNO he motivates 42 researchers and designers in the field of environments, comfort, productivity and health. He is also professor at the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Delft University of Technology, where he teaches, guides students (PhD and MSc) and conducts research. He has more than 200 publications in the field of participative design and comfort. His latest book is entitled Aircraft Interior Comfort and Design.


19 August 2011


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