Inflight comfort and connectivity
The executive jet experience allows passengers to be on time and to remain productive and entertained aloft.
By Shannon Forrest
President, Turbine Mentor.
ATP/CFII. Challenger 604/605, Gulfstream IV, MU2B
The 1987 movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles highlights the reasons why people abhor flying on the airlines and prefer to use private aviation.
In the movie, advertising executive Neal Page is stuck in a seemingly endless meeting, and is concerned about making his 6 pm flight from LGA (La Guardia, New York NY) to ORD (O’Hare, Chicago IL). When the meeting eventually ends, he makes it to LGA only to discover his flight has been delayed.
Although Page has purchased a first class ticket, an airline error assigns him a middle seat in coach, where he’s wedged between a nonstop talker salesman named Del Griffith, and a gentleman with an incessant cough who is fond of falling asleep on Page’s shoulder.
While enroute to ORD, the weather goes below minimums in a blizzard, and the flight diverts to ICT (Mid-Continent, Wichita KS), where Page stays the night. Now he has to go on a sketchy cab ride to a seedy hotel where he has to share a single bed in a dingy room with Griffith. Page and Griffith try to make it back to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving, completing segments of the trip using the railroad, a bus, a rental car, and a ride in the back of a refrigerated truck.
The convenience of corporate jets
With all due respect to writer and director John Hughes, maybe Neal Page should have flown on the corporate jet, purchased a jet card membership, or downloaded one of the numerous apps that sell seats on private aircraft deadhead or reposition legs. If he had done so, the story would end differently, or there would be no story at all.
Page wouldn’t be concerned about what time he arrived at LGA, as the jet would be waiting for him regardless. His bags would be loaded aboard seamlessly and without question, even if his carry-on contained more than 3 ounces of a liquid or gel. He’d settle into his oversized seat and be offered a beverage. If he was running late, he could connect to a system like the Gogo ST4300, which uses the Iridium satellite network to deliver up to 3 channels of voice transmission anywhere in the world.
If Page wanted to communicate in real time with his coworkers, decompress with a movie, or watch a live sporting event, he could do so using broadband delivered by Viasat or SmartSky. More importantly, the Wi-Fi experience would be tailored to business aviation clients, eliminating the need to vie for bandwidth with 200 other passengers posting pics of their breakfast to their Facebook or Instagram pages.
The Satcom Direct Router (SDR) for business aviation is designed to prevent or mitigate this circumstance by providing separate Wi-Fi networks (VIP and guest) within the cabin.
And an engaging movie wouldn’t be interrupted by a sales pitch to apply for the airline-branded credit card – with a tempting introductory teaser interest rate that triples in a year – in exchange for enough free miles to visit Detroit in the winter (blackout dates apply).
The interior of a business jet is actually designed to maximize personal space and comfort, in lieu of the “pack-in-as-many-passengers-as-possible” business model associated with airline travel.
Despite articles such as “Why getting comfortable is sabotaging your success,” published in Forbes magazine, comfort is exactly what people crave. Every marketing campaign for a luxury automobile touts the comfort factor. Humans eat “comfort food” when stressed or anxious. Interior designers make a living using colors, fabrics, and patterns designed to elicit warm feelings. Financial pundits calculate a net worth or income level one needs to be comfortable.
Webster’s dictionary defines comfort as “contented well-being” and “a satisfying or enjoyable experience.” In his 1943 paper A theory of human motivation, psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that humans behave according to a 5-step pyramid. The top of the pyramid represents achievement of full potential (self-actualization, etc), and the bottom level comprises the most basic physical needs (food, water, warmth, rest). Level 2 is safety. Each underlying level mustbe completed before moving up to the next one.
Maslow’s principles are embedded in the laws of learning taught to flight instructors. The law of effect (things are best remembered when associated with a pleasant feeling) and the law of intensity (vivid, dramatic, or exciting experiences are best remembered) are just 2 examples.
Comfort can be basic or complex, but in the end it’s largely subjective and is determined by the individual. When it comes to private or business aviation, it’s reasonable to assume that’s there’s a minimum expectation in terms of passenger comfort, and that metric is high to begin with. The key assumption is that the aircraft is safe (Maslow’s level 1), which means that more focus is placed on amenities in the cabin.
The antithesis of comfort is discomfort, and that’s about avoidance. In that respect, comfort has 2 components – creating pleasurable experiences, and eliminating those that aren’t. The very act of private air travel is an avoidance of the discomfort of airline travel. Aircraft original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) work hard to achieve both tenets of comfort while maintaining aircraft performance.
Comfort, as applied to an aircraft cabin, is composed of 3 distinct components – aesthetics (look and psychological feel), ergonomics (dimensions, seat materials and design, temperature, cabin altitude), and advanced connectivity. It may seem silly that connectivity is considered a comfort factor, but surveys continue to report increasing levels of dependence on smartphones and tablets.
The portable electronic device (PED) is a modern day “Linus Blanket.” That’s a term used to describe an item associated with reassurance and comfort made popular by the character in the Peanuts comic strip who wouldn’t go anywhere without his blanket. Modern design and comfort variables are incorporated into new models by default, but those considering retrofitting an aircraft should consider upgrades that improve the perceived (and actual) value of the aircraft.
Turboprop (TP) operators have always fought the specious belief on the part of the public that having a propeller on an aircraft makes it less safe than a jet. Most non-pilots couldn’t describe the differences between the engine on a King Air and that on a Piper Cub, so the discomfort associated with professionally-flown TPs has no factual basis.
The Pilatus PC-12 NGX serves as an example of how safety, versatility, and comfort can be combined. Pilatus publishes a takeoff distance of 2485 ft, a top cruise speed of 290 kts, and a range of 1803 nm.
The cabin was designed in collaboration with BMW Designworks, and includes fully reclining executive seats composed of fine European leather with custom hand stitching. Increased headroom and taller seat backs make it more comfortable for a range of physiques and body types. Hardwood cabinetry and custom upholstery round out the cabin.
The PC-12 is unique in that it can access airports with runways too short for jets while at the same time providing a passenger experience typically only associated with jets.
The Cessna Citation Longitude is considered a super-midsize jet that provides transatlantic capability. Textron’s tagline for the Longitude is “Time for comfort, time for quiet, time for technology.” The cabin is denoted as the quietest interior in class (65–67 decibels at cruise in the aft cabin) and most legroom in its class, with fully breathable seating and a flat-aisle design.
Fifteen large windows supply natural light. The Longitude can be outfitted with a pre-designed interior color scheme, or be designed from scratch to a customer’s specifications using Cessna’s full-service design team. A walk-in baggage area means passengers can access stowed bags in flight in lieu of cluttering up the aisle.
The Covid-19 pandemic over the past few years has exposed another comfort variable not previously considered – health and wellness factors while airborne. The Latitude uses a partial air recirculation system, which recycles a percentage of air from the cabin, while drawing most of the air from the outside. High-efficiency filters scrub the air of pathogens and contaminants, and the recirculation process replaces the ambient air roughly every 4 minutes.
The Embraer Praetor 600 is in the same class as the Longitude. A high cabin altitude for extended periods of time is associated with dehydration and fatigue, and the Praetor addresses this comfort factor by maintaining a cabin altitude of 5800 ft while flying at FL450. The Honeywell Ovation Select cabin management system supports full 1080 HD video streaming through the Viasat Ka-band satellite.
The galley comes equipped with a microwave, conventional oven, refrigerator, and coffee brewing station. Gourmet meals – and comfort food – are served using china, crystal, and silverware that complements the design aesthetic of the cabin. Inspiration for the Bossa Nova interior, which features carbon fiber materials, came from the sidewalks of Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema Beach.
In 2021, Dassault announced a redesign of the Falcon 8X cabin to incorporate state-of-the-art passenger productivity and comfort features. According to Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier, the enhancements came with extensive customer input, and one of the design elements was an innovative cabin management system controlled by a personal device. The Bluetooth-capable cabin has seat-specific lighting and temperature environmental settings, and PED charging stations to prevent the dismay and discomfort associated with a dead battery.
The 8X’s 6450-nm range presents some additional comfort factor challenges. LED lighting reduces eye strain, and the sunrise/sunset feature helps with time zone acclimation and circadian rhythm disruptions on long flights. Noise levels below 50 decibels can promote sleep, and an optional extended aft lavatory with a shower allows passengers to freshen up after a long journey.
The executive cabin in Bombardier’s Global 7500 and 8000 literally serves as an office in the sky designed with a 3-workspace interior. While capable of traveling 8000 miles and peaking out at Mach 0.94, the workspace is designed for productivity and comfort. The executive cabin office suite is equipped with 4 proprietary Nuage seats.
At first glance, the response might be, “It’s a seat. How good could it be?” However, as anyone who’s ever tried to relax or sleep in a seat knows there’s vast diversity when it comes to seat designs and comfort. The Nuage uses a swivel plate that allows a range of movement without the traditional rails. The design aligns with the passenger’s center of gravity, and keeps the spine in a neutral position. The net gain is ease of operation, additional leg room, and a better experience – whether relaxing or sleeping.
In the early years of aviation, the name of the game was performance. Designers were focused on extracting the maximum capability out of the aircraft itself. One lesson from the auto industry is that performance alone won’t sell cars, and good performance won’t make up for a bad interior or styling.
In an era of near instant gratification, customer satisfaction is the salient metric. Aircraft OEMs have embraced this concept and have incorporated comfort elements across the complete spectrum of designs, from newer to well-established international flight departments. And they continue to innovate.
In his book Don’t get too comfortable: the indignities of coach class, the torments of low thread count, the never-ending quest for artisanal olive oil, and other first world problems, author David Rakoff argues that we’ve become too comfortable. However, private air travelers would tend to disagree – they aren’t comfortable enough.
Shannon Forrest is a current line pilot, CRM facilitator, and aviation safety consultant. He has more than 10,000 hrs TT and holds a degree in behavioral psychology.