Delta's Italian-design upgrade in first, business class

By Bloomberg News, May 30 2017
Delta's Italian-design upgrade in first, business class

Delta flyers, prepare to say arrivederci to the plain Jane plates and glasses of the past as the carrier rolls out 86 new pieces from Alessi in its Delta One business class and first class cabins.

Best known for such whimsical housewares as Michael Graves’s tea kettle with a bird on the spout and a spaceship-inspired lemon juicer from Philippe Starck, Alessi is now taking versions of its bestselling tabletop accessories, including silverware, serving trays, wine glasses, and salt-and-pepper shakers, to 30,000 feet.

The collection for Delta is based on popular items from six of the 300 designers who have created products for Alessi in recent years.

It includes a coffee maker designed by Kristiina Lassus, Ovale plates by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, and the bestselling Big Love spoon by Miriam Mirri.

“It’s very playful, which is what drew us,” said Allison Ausband, Delta’s senior vice president of in-flight service. “When you think about our customers and the journey that they’re on, it’ll bring a smile to their face.”

Most of the products had to be redesigned for air travel – a three-year process, said Alberto Alessi, the company’s president.

The typical stoneware used to manufacture the dinnerware was too heavy, so Alessi switched to new bone china, which reduced the thickness and weight of the plates. “The challenge was trying to keep the products consistent with the original version,” he said.

The move is part of a multibillion dollar strategy as airlines of all types seek to woo high-spending customers with the best amenities, so-called “soft product.”

Air France has hired celebrity chef Daniel Boulud to create some of its first-class and business-class menus; Qatar Airways has done the same with Nobu Matsuhisa. Air Canada recently redesigned its livery with tastemaker Tyler Brûlé.

It makes sense that the next iteration of curating the in-flight experience has extended to the design of the flatware and crystal.

Singapore Suites, for instance, are serviced with Wedgwood china in first class, and KLM business-class meals come on flatware by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders.

But until now, we haven’t seen this level of detail from U.S. airlines; this may mark the beginning of an era wherein U.S. airlines up design-driven amenities to compete better with international carriers. Delta is counting on it.

“The visual part of it is huge,” said Ausband, who oversees the company’s 22,000 flight attendants and has held 20 focus sessions on the new service ware worldwide.

“The pattern, we knew, could take us to the next level and culminate on that tray table - that and lots of opportunities to take pictures for social media.”

Alessi-designed flatware, crystal glasses, stainless steel serving pieces, and tabletop accessories such as napkin rings and salt and pepper shakers will also roll out on the Premium Select program, due later this year.

The only fear, for now, is that the items might be too eye-catching for sticky fingered guests.

But since they all say “Alessi for Delta” on the bottom, the general feeling is that they can serve as calling cards, according to Jaime Jewell, Delta’s general manager of brand strategy and customer experience.

"If a couple of our Big Love spoons end up on the Thanksgiving dinner table, I wouldn’t mind."