Airlines switch onto mood lighting to help passengers relax

By Businessweek , September 24 2017
Airlines switch onto mood lighting to help passengers relax

Interior designers for airlines across Europe, Asia, and the US have a new consideration when it comes to onboard products and service: How's the lighting?

Designers are starting to experiment with new technologies that let them illuminate the cabin in all kinds of hues.

Is a pinkish-purple glow suitably soothing for boarding? Does the “amber warmth” programmed for dinner service offer flight attendants enough light by which to serve? And is the cabin at bedtime too dark?

This mood-lighting capability arises from new light–emitting diode (LED) technologies that Airbus and Boeing offer on their latest A350 and 787 Dreamliner models, respectively, to let airlines dial up a rainbow palette of colour schemes.

Airbus is extending this through its Airspace cabin design for the A330neo and A320neo series jets to provide a 'welcome area' where passengers board the plane, featuring an illuminated LED panel with highly customisable displays so that airlines can create boarding scenarios to reflect their own brand.

"Lights on!"

As of now, cabin lights basically have two settings: on and off. That accounts for the jarring “lights on!” moment during an overnight flight before flight attendants prepare to serve a mini-breakfast.

The cabin “goes from darkness to light in three seconds,” drawing passenger complaints, says Finnish designer Vertti Kivi, who has done Finnair lounges and worked on the interior of the airline’s new Airbus A350s.

A better way, Kivi said, is to have cabin light that rises gradually, much the way a sunrise transitions from faint pink to warm glow to sunlight.

Finnair's A350 cabin has two dozen light settings, aligned with stages of a long-haul flight.

It will also feature warmer, amber colors on flights arriving in Asia and cooler “Nordic blue” hues when flying into Finland.

As night falls during flight, Kivi designed a roughly 20-minute “sunset” in the cabin.

Another natural option Finnair cab replicate in flight? “We also have the speciality of the Northern Lights,” he says.

Can LED lighting reduce jetlag?

For its forthcoming Boeing 787 Dreamliners, Qantas will incorporate specific wavelengths of cabin lighting which encourage the body’s product of the hormone melatonin, which in turn drives the circadian rhythms of the body clock.

A sleep expert from Sydney University's Charles Perkins Centre visited Boeing to examine the Dreamliner's lighting options and their effect on passengers.

“He’s given us recommendations on the aircraft for Perth-London, on what lighting we should be using at different stages of the flight, which from a scientific standpoint has never been done before", explains Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce.

As a result, Qantas discarded its original Boeing 787 LED lighting scheme and is adopting one tailored for each route and geared towards promoting sleep and wakefulness at the appropriate times.

Virgin Atlantic bans greens, blues

Virgin Atlantic has five primary color periods on its Boeing 787 flights: rose-champagne for boarding, purple-pink for drinks, “amber” for dining, another for the pre-sleep period called “work-rest-play,” a silvery glow for overnight sleep, and a waking color.

“We’ve always wanted to create a different kind of atmosphere aboard our aircraft and light plays exactly into our hands,” says Nik Lusardi, design manager at Virgin Atlantic Airways, one of the pioneers of using mood lighting during flight.

“You can get people energized or you can relax people very, very quickly,” Lusardi said.

Lusardi said his team, which pushes its lighting changes to aircraft electronically from Virgin’s UK headquarters, has banned greens and blues. They’re not Virgin Atlantic colors, nor do they make food and drink look particularly appealing.

American Airlines, which began experimenting with LED light options in 2011, ahead of the delivery of the company’s first Boeing 777-300ER jumbo jets, has also banished green lighting from the cabin.

Like Virgin Atlantic, American uses amber during the dinner service, “sort of like candlelight in a restaurant,” said Alice Liu, managing director of onboard products.

For sleep periods, it uses a deep blue, which designers chose after considering – and rejecting – a reddish glow. “Red is sometimes associated with fire,” Liu said – never a good thing on an airplane.

Additional reporting by David Flynn

03 Sep 2017

Total posts 49

I really like this technology in the cabin. It may not be immediately obvious to the passenger, or indeed never ever realize the effects, but if there's no negative effects, why not give it a go?

The next thing to look into should be the temperature setting. Some sort of program to vary the temperature during the flight, depending on the time of day where the aircraft is flying over, or even if simulating the time of day in the cabin to coincide with arrival its time.
There were times when the cabin is either too cold or too warm, and it's up to the cabin crew to adjust it, and that depends on the crew's judgement. I can understand that if the crew was busy moving around, they would feel the cabin is warm. But if a crew is in the galley during non-service time, he/she may feel cold, as the galley tends to be.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Aug 2014

Total posts 156

There is absolutely nothing "new technology" in this whatsoever. Colour changing LED tape has been around for 10 years or more.

Qatar Airways

06 Jul 2016

Total posts 48

I mostly find 'special' cabin lighting so over-hyped. The idea is great, if it could be pre-programmed, but leaving it to crew to switch between different colours makes it all so random.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Jun 2011

Total posts 88

Agreed. Amusing when you see 2 hours of lighting changes pushed through in 2 minutes!


03 May 2013

Total posts 668

It's an erratic feature with no uniformity. I love it when the lights start doing a dance as if it was the first time cabin crew started to use it trying to decide on a colour. I wish there was a pre set lighting config that gradually and subtly changed for a given flight. They can plan the service, why not the lighting?


22 Jan 2013

Total posts 99

What rubbish, most flights after service it's windows shades closed and lights off, no matter what time of the day it is. This drives me mad and during day flights adds to jetlag.

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