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.
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