Blake Emery talks Boeing's cabin design philosophy

Blake Emery

Blake Emery develops differentiation strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Photograph by Tim McGuire

More than just a smooth ride and a comfortable cabin, the Boeing flying experience depends on continual research and advancements in science and technology.

Q. How are Boeing commercial airplane cabins designed? Is it more art or more science?

A: Nothing that you’ll find in a Boeing airplane cabin is random or just feels like a good idea. Boeing cabin design is based on passenger-focused research, and is intentional, based on what we discover from that research. Every idea is vetted to see if it does indeed improve the passenger experience. So it’s probably more science.

Q. So what have you learned improves the passenger experience?

A: Let’s talk about passenger windows as an example. Our approach to windows reflects the heart of our cabin philosophy, which is: airplanes by design, for people, always connected to sky. That’s been true since the 707 jetliner that took to the skies in 1958.

Six decades ago with the 707, Boeing improved the view to the outside by providing more windows. To improve the connection to the sky, the 707 had dome lights to simulate stars, sunset and sunrise—key elements associated with the sky.

User experience testing confirms what intuition suggests: people sitting at the window seat rated the flying experience higher than those further away from the windows. That’s why those window seats fill up first!

But why? Research shows that people feel the connection to the sky is special—that holds across the world’s cultures.

Q. How has technology further enabled this approach?

A: Pulling a window screen down essentially turns a window into a wall, breaking the connection with the sky. On the Dreamliner, you can dim the window and still not lose the connection to the sky. We innovated by seeking out technologies that enabled the window to dim, and allowed the passenger to choose the opacity of the window.

Q. Fliers typically face the “window or aisle” dilemma. How can every seat get more window?

A: The obvious answer is to have the windows be larger and higher in the fuselage. The problem was that would bring additional weight to the aircraft.

For the 787, and the decision to move to a composite fuselage, the engineers were able to eliminate the heavy window reinforcing band, thus enabling larger windows. The window band is necessary on metal airplanes to prevent stress fractures and their propagation. Composite structure does not propagate cracking the way metal can, which allowed us to eliminate that band.

Q. And what about the interior lights?

A: The Boeing Sky Interior uses modern LED lighting. We also incorporate a proprietary method of harmonizing the lights with the architectural lines to help the passenger subconsciously feel as if they are truly in the sky.

Every little bit of light in a Boeing airplane has been carefully thought through right down to the engineering to allow or create that light. The interiors design strategy continues to be driven by the “by design” aspect of our cabin philosophy. Research and engineering come together to create the preferred passenger experience.

By Nate Hulings