From Cleopatra´s royal carriage to the transatlantic vessels that made history in the first half of the 20th century, luxury has been present as a human expression in every form of transportation. Digital technology and design are writing a new chapter in the history of commercial aviation, aboard aircraft with more space and amenities for increasingly demanding travelers.
Extravagant elegance in transportation has been synonymous with the exclusive domain of technology. This was evident in the effort and care displayed in every detail of the luxurious Straus suite in the Titanic, the bohemian sophistication of the Orient Express—masterfully described by Agatha Christie in her famous novels—or the extravagant the Christina O, the legendary yacht immortalized by Aristotle Onassis.
This paradigmatic shift in the luxury industry is the result of the availability of high digital technology that makes possible to build a plane of colossal dimensions in the new millennium.
The development of the Airbus 380, the latest generation of transoceanic aircraft, brought to the industry the pleasure of 40 percent more space, giving free rein to creativity and luxury, and leaving behind the forgotten days when economic efficiency prevented comfort and glamour in flights.
Before the A380, the race for exclusivity and elegance was only developed in Boeing´s selected models (the 747 and 777), which were fitted with special first class and business class cabins for certain routes.
In the first decade of the 21st century, the monopoly of luxury in the air was almost exclusively in the hands of Emirates, designed to serve the oil potentates and emirs that traveled from Dubai to the rest of the world: their planes featured a spa, gourmet kitchen and spacious areas for relaxation and self-indulgence.
As expected, the advantages of the Airbus 380 over the Boeing 747 in flight economy and space were soon identified by Emirates, which became the second airline to purchase one of these majestic aircraft and today is the main customer of the European manufacturer, Airbus, with a total of 140 planes being built for them.
However, the first customer of Airbus was Singapore Airlines, another one of the participants of the new explosion of luxury in pressurized cabins. The way this airline used the extra space offered by the Airbus materialized mainly in their exclusive VIP cabins with single or double suites, furnished with leather seats, double beds, personal butler service, gourmet cuisine and 23-inch screens to enjoy a choice of 100 movies and 180 television shows.
Among the European airlines, Lufthansa has taken the lead in the luxury class service both with the Airbus 380 and the classic Boeing 747. “The concept of first class means to always expect the exceptional. It is perfection down to the smallest detail,” says Nils Haupt, director of communications for Lufthansa. This is exemplified in an efficient service from arrival at the Frankfurt Airport, Germany, to the pleasure of a “real” bed in the air. For executive or business class passengers, Lufthansa has seats that transform into 2-meter long beds. “The open cockpit design, the seat configuration and use of subtle colors and natural tones help to create a sense of openness,” emphasizes Haupt.
Etihad Airways is another company that made history with the inclusion of luxurious features. The official airline of the United Arab Emirates has just acquired its first Airbus 380, and surprises are expected. So far, its fleet has been sufficient to develop the outstanding Diamond First Class service in six of its A330 aircraft.
This first class service offers gourmet cuisine prepared by chefs from famous restaurants, and a cabin with seats that convert into a private suite with 23-inch television screen, minibar and dressing rooms.
The luxury industry is working hard to provide commercial aviation a service that began as an exclusive deal in the 1960s but succumbed to the pursuit of economic efficiency for the next five decades. The lost glamour on the planes where space felt—and was— more and more tight, and where the food served was increasingly basic, could be reborn with luxury endorsed by the world´s major airlines in the first quarter of the 21st century.