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Qantas will reshape the upstairs lounge of its Airbus A380 to create more of a social space for the superjumbo’s first class and business class flyers as part of an extensive upgrade to the airline’s flagship double-decker jet.
The project – which will also see the airline’s latest business class and premium economy seats installed. and the first class cabin refreshed – will ditch the long red banquette for what concept sketches show as two seating clusters where passengers can mix and mingle, work or even hold impromptu meetings above the clouds.
UPDATE [August 23, 2018]: Australian Business Traveller can exclusively report that Qantas' Airbus A380 revamp will introduce two new business class lounges, with each lounge located either side of the 'grand staircase' leading down to first class. For details and photos click through to our latest article, Qantas Airbus A380s to get two inflight business class lounges
Australian designer David Caon, who is in charge of reimagining the lounge and has also shaped the airline’s next-gen business class, premium economy and economy seats which debuted on the Boeing 787-9, sees the lounge as being more of a social space than just a piece of furniture.
“The thinking is about trying to find a little bit more seating and make it a little bit more convivial” Caon tells Australian Business Traveller.
“Today everybody’s sitting along the bench and facing one direction, and that's not necessarily the best layout and the best arrangement for people to be in.”
“Our lounge should be something where people are able to sit and face each other and discuss and talk,” Caon explains.
“It’s supposed to be a sociable space, the kind of space that if there are two people that are travelling together but not necessarily sitting together, they can go (to the lounge) and spend time together.”
Making the most of the lounge’s footprint will be paramount to Caon’s plans, as the refit program won’t involve structural changes such as relocating bulkhead walls or downsizing the ‘grand staircase’ to the first class cabin on the main deck.
The magazine rack opposite the lounge is for the chop, while a bit more room will be freed up due to the sheer bulk of the red settee.
“We’re looking to remove the magazine rack simply because it's really not necessary,” Caon says. “The magazine rack is not reinforcing our concept, which is about trying to find a way that we can get people to face each other and to work together.”
“My design philosophy has always been about making things as human as possible (so we want to) bring that human element into that space.”
Dampening the sound of lounge chit-chat so as not to disturb passengers in the front rows of the business class cabin is also under consideration – “using slightly less hard surfaces and things like that would be beneficial,” Caon says.
However, with Qantas’ Airbus A380 revamp not due to start until mid-2019 it’s still early days for Caon and his team.
“The sketch does a fair bit to illustrate our initial thinking, but we've got a lot of ideas that we're throwing around at the moment because we're still in the concept days, so I've got to stress that the sketches are (just) sketches to illustrate our thinking in how we evolve the space and bring it up to the next level… they're not necessarily representative of what we're going to do.”
Caon’s concept designs include a lighter colour palette for the lounge to help connect the space to the new-look business class cabin, “because they are supposed to be the same space” he explains.
“One the things that we've been targeting in our thinking is having this ‘brand continuity’ throughout the airline, and anything that we'll do will refer to principles in the Qantas design DNA. The palette references that, but we are still testing different versions of that palette and experimenting where we use those tones.
“Certainly enhancing the mood of that space and making it a little bit textured and layered would be something that is high on my list.”
A stand-out feature of the new lounge concept is a curved wooden panel following the line of the fuselage.
“Timber laminate is a part of the Qantas business palette now, so (the lounge) could be an obvious place we could use it – but that's a pretty big challenge because once you start talking about the sidewall then we really have to think about designing quite bespoke elements.”
“And everything we do is very dependent on regulations so there’s quite a significant process of engineering and assessment as to whether it's even possible.”
The whole process is however being streamlined by the use of virtual reality, with VR headsets providing what Caon terms “immersive technology” rather than simply looking at an on-screen rendering.
“VR gives you that instant perspective and allows you to understand with immediacy how everything works together” Caon enthuses.
“We can make decisions a lot faster because we can visualise things… I think it's really exciting and will be the path forward for design in general.”