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Suite talk
After last month's inaugural flight of Singapore Airlines' A380 from Singapore to Sydney, Phee Teik Yeoh, senior vice-president customer experience for the airline, told Katherine Lawrey about the new look for its Suites and Business Class.
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After last month's inaugural flight of Singapore Airlines' A380 from Singapore to Sydney, Phee Teik Yeoh, senior vice-president customer experience for the airline, told Katherine Lawrey about the new look for its Suites and Business Class.

Q: How do you start the process of designing a new suite?

A: It's about re-imagining customer experiences based on evolving trends. The conceptual design is tested and refined, using customer feedback. This part is the most important - and the hardest – of the process. Each customer is different, with differing needs and wants. The key is to identify your target segment and future-proof the design with the sole purpose of delighting your customers.

Q:Who did you work with on the interior?

A:Our six Suites were designed by Pierrejean Design Studio and manufactured by Zodiac Seats UK. These are at the front of the Upper Deck, and behind are 78 Business Class seats, designed by JPA Design of the UK and manufactured by JAMCO Corporation of Japan.

Q:How are the Suites furnished?

A:Each has sliding doors, ambient lighting and electronically adjustable roller blinds, so the customer can make it as private as they wish. They have a standalone 27 x 76-inch full-flat bed, a 21-inch wide adjustable leather chair, upholstered by Italian designer Poltrona Frau, a 32-inch HD touch screen and a personal full-size wardrobe. Short of a private jet, it's the most exclusive way to fly.

Q:What are the features of the new business class seat?

A:We have made the seat with a carbon-fibre composite shell structure, instead of the more traditional metal support. As a result of the thinner base, we've been able to create more under seat storage space. A large back shell with a padded inner area makes it really private and comfy for lounging. For those who prefer to work, the space easily converts into an office, with well-positioned reading lights, laptop power, supply and USB ports. Come bedtime, the seat reclines directly into a fully flat bed.

Q:What will surprise customers the most about the design?

A:How much thought has gone into minute details. Clever storage solutions include a compartment on floor level for cabin bags so customers won't have to stand up to reach into overhead lockers to access their belongings. We've also added a personal vanity mirror by the seat and reading lights with adjustable brightness.


How to build and airline seat…

It looks simple, doesn’t it? It’s just a seat after all, so how hard can it be to design? The answer is very, very hard. So if you are giving some thought to making a seat for a plane make sure you read this eight-step guide before you get started.


It can take as long as four years to conceive a new airline seat. You'll need to research the latest interior and tech trends to make sure your chair passes the "hot right now" test. Simultaneously, refrain from getting carried away. If you try for a velvet chair with a mahogany dining table in the  sky the regulators are going to tell you off.


Be prepared to dip into your savings. While we can't be sure of the exact costs of developing a seat we can tell you that Singapore Airlines has just invested $850 million (£628 million) in the research, design, development and installation of new products on 19 of its A380 aircraft. So, not cheap then.


"Buildability" and "maintainability' are not very sexy words, but would-be plane-seat creators need to stamp them on their foreheads. Their chairs get used every day, potentially for a decade, by people who want everything working and looking good as they sit in them. Think easily maintained, think hard to break, think timeless design.


Don't expect to get it right first time. Almost every plane seat you have ever sat on is probably at least the 17th attempt. The designers have to balance technology with aesthetics with practicality with comfort with space ... with a hundred other things. So the prototypes are going to pile up.

5. Lighten up

You also can't make your seat too heavy. Heavy means harder to get off the ground and stay there,   which means more fuel, which means more expensive. Before you know it your airline isn't making money. And the lighter the chair, the better it is for the environment. So think about using the latest composite materials.


The seat has to feel special to the person using it, so personalisation is important. On the best planes, in-flight entertainment systems allow frequent flyers to reconnect when they get to their seat so, for example, if they only got halfway through a film on a previous flight, the system will let them pick up where they left off.


Look around for inspiration. The best airlines keep an eye on the very best products from luxury hotels and restaurants when decking the cabins. This is well worth doing when it comes to items such as duvets, pillows, china and glassware. Timeless, high-quality brands such as Lalique and Wedgwood are now the standard-bearers in premium cabins.


Don't scrimp on the extras. Today's luxury is tomorrow’s expectation. Make your Wi-Fi superfast, and serve your guests farm-to-table food by top chefs. If you're creating a suite, make sure there's a private double bed, soft carpet, wardrobe, 32-inch TV and sit-down vanity counter in the bathroom.

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