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In conversation with… Jetliner Cabins’ Jennifer Coutts Clay

From trollies to seating, aircraft cabin design has completely changed in the last few decades, both through necessity and trends. For industry professionals and aviation enthusiasts alike it can be useful to see the evolution for themselves, something which Jennifer Coutts Clay’s Jetliner Cabins has aimed to solve.

Since it was first published in hardback in 2003 as a book, Jetliner Cabins: Evolution & Innovation has documented and examined some of the biggest challenges cabin design has to offer, including how they shape and style of the seat, legroom, cushioning and the general look and feel of the cabin all whilst keeping in mind passenger health and safety.

Moving with the times, it has now transformed into an e-book app allowing users to find out anything they could have wanted to know about what goes into creating an ideal aircraft cabin experience.

The mastermind behind the book and app is Jennifer Coutts Clay, a consultant with extensive experience in the industry. At British Airways, during the 1970s, in 1979 she was then appointed head of operations and sales for Western USA, the first woman to be appointed to such a position in the airline.  Following this, she had roles across the industry, including as Pan American general manager of product design and development where she completed a three-year, $25-million fleet upgrade programme, redesigning all major aspects of the Pan Am passenger service product.

Since the 90s she has worked as a consultant for airlines and suppliers, using her cabin knowledge to her advantage, one aspect of which has been Jetliner Cabins.

“Originally it was aimed at people in the industry, those who wanted to easily see how cabins had evolved over the years but it has surprised me how many others have enjoyed it,” admits Coutts Clay.

The idea of the book came about because of a number of conversations with people who wanted an overall account of cabin spaces and to see what others in the industry were creating and innovating.

“I find it incredible that since its launch its still classed as the first and only comprehensive survey of commercial aircraft design from the 1970s to the present day,” adds Coutts Clay. “Being the first in its field, I am delighted that my book has become the go-to reference for aviation professionals and enthusiasts alike.”

Offering a complete history of cabin design going back to the 1970s, it is described as “the first and only comprehensive account of the aircraft cabin environment.”

Containing both black & white and colour photographs of airline interiors from around the world, it covers everything from first-class luxury to economy class passenger experience. The e-book app edition has added an interactive element, allowing users to customise the use of the material according to their own interests and requirements.

Lets talk about Covid

Of course, with the events of the last year the pandemic has helped to shift airline’s needs and priorities in a different way than perhaps has ever been seen in the aviation industry before.

As a response to Covid-19, Coutts Clay saw the chance for the different health measures airlines were putting in place to be collated into one place, giving insight into how the industry reacted to the sudden global change. The newest chapter of the e-book app which includes case studies from 2020 and 2021.

“The travel sector has been devastated, and fleets are grounded, and it’s a difficult time for airlines. In general, the product development sector is busier than ever. I look at all the new developments that are coming along from vendors and suppliers. For example, UVC light, electrostatic spraying, the use of copper alloy for latches and finishes, and high-touch surfaces,” explains Coutts Clay.

“With the pandemic, I think already we are already seeing that the aviation sector is looking ahead and moving into a new era where all the details have to be handled so that we can achieve top levels of passenger safety and passenger wellness. And above all, cabin hygiene — this is manageable, but the work has to be done at a much higher level and more systematically than ever before.”

Coutts Clay believes airlines are adapting to this crisis as they have to previous devastating events, in a way, as the subtitle of her book suggests, by tapping into innovation and evolving.

“We can see the airlines moving ahead with deep cleaning programs at airports, between flights on the overnight, making use of new materials, new cleaning methods, clever coatings, smart accessories, and so on,” she says. “Then we have to look at the passengers. What are the passengers going to do to fight back against Covid-19? We know that passengers long to travel by air. It’s likely that we’re going to have to have stricter protocols for the use of mass plastic gloves, sanitisation wipes, sanitisation stations. Onboard, there will be less movement around the aircraft. Passengers will be sitting in their seats longer during the flight than in previous years.”

But airlines, who have already adapted significantly in recent months, will likely need to do so for the foreseeable future she believes.

“Airlines will need to review, rethink and recalibrate the delivery aspects of classic onboard operating models. For example, passenger boarding, stowage of carry-on baggage, provisioning and serving of food and beverage, the technicalities of IFE and communications systems, access to lavatories, freedom of movement around the cabin, transiting galley areas, and the disembarkation process at the end of the flight. The ‘new air travel normal’ will certainly present major ongoing challenges for designers of jetliner cabins.”

Despite this, Coutts Clay sees an abundant amount of opportunities for improvement in the cabin and on the ground. Developments in products, technology and materials mean a bright future ahead for aviation. “Travel is about acquiring knowledge. It’s wonderful that we will have the opportunity to travel more … the benefits of air travel are wonderful and mind-blowing,” she finishes.

You can download the Jetliner Cabins e-book app via apple and android device app stores.

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