September 5, 2012 in Business

Airlines focus on improving plane interiors

Cabins undergo changes in fight for frequent flyers
Gregory Karp Chicago Tribune
 

The updated first-class section of a United Boeing 777.
(Full-size photo)

CHICAGO – After decades of relatively little change, aircraft cabins in the United States are undergoing a renaissance that promises to make the flying experience more comfortable and enjoyable for passengers, especially for those at the front of the plane.

Major airlines are taking delivery of new airplanes with well-thought-out cabin amenities. At the same time, they’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the interiors of existing planes.

“We’ve seen in the last year or so some tremendous improvements in the passenger experience,” said Mary Kirby, editor-in-chief of Airline Passenger Experience magazine. “Airlines were rather stagnant for many years in terms of what they offered.”

Some seats on long flights will recline into flat beds. Some overhead bins will be better-designed and larger. Seats will have on-demand movies and television, in addition to power outlets. Cabins will be equipped with wireless Internet access and mood lighting.

And, yes, some seats on these new and updated planes will have more legroom.

Airline executives facing stiff competition and high fuel costs are not making pricey changes out of benevolence. The best goodies are reserved for passengers toward the front of the plane, sanctuary for travelers willing to pay more.

“This really boils down to a desire to win high-value customers,” said Rob Friedman, American Airlines vice president of marketing, referring to his airline’s attempt to woo mostly frequent-flying business travelers.

Upgrades in some cases, however, mean economy-class will become more cramped. Fortunately, some in-cabin perks will trickle back to coach to distract attention from snug confines.

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