An enhanced version of the signature Emirates A380 Onboard Lounge that is making its first public appearance during ITB Berlin 2017 Image Credit: Courtesy: Emirates

Dubai, Toulouse: Flying bars that cater to premium passengers on the world’s biggest fleet of A380 jetliners are set for a saloon-style upgrade as Emirates seeks to lure affluent travellers amid slowing revenue growth.

Out will go the semicircular benches on which passengers have perched since Emirates introduced the on-board lounges almost a decade ago, to be replaced by an altogether more comfortable set-up featuring a table for four located on either side of the counter and below the superjumbo’s windows.

In addition to the eight seats, the new watering holes will have room for 18 standing guests, so that drinkers can still prop up the horseshoe-shaped bar if they prefer. And almost in anticipation of people finding it harder to drag themselves away, the areas will get soundproof curtains to separate them from adjoining first- and business-class cabins.

Emirates, the world’s biggest long-haul airline, has “taken inspiration from private yacht cabins” in revamping its lounges, President Tim Clark said in a statement, adding that the design will make the areas “more intimate and conducive for passengers to socialise.”

One table has double berths facing each other, while the other features L-shaped seating around a smaller cocktail table, with each person having their own seat belt so that they’ll be able to remain in the bar even when the plane encounters turbulence.

A “champagne” colour-scheme and ambient lighting will also be used to give an “airier look and feel,” according to Emirates, which is enhancing its cabins after forecasting a year of flat growth as the oil-price slump continues to crimp travel to Mideast states.

A mock-up of the lounge went on show at the ITB Berlin travel fair on Wednesday, with the first due to be installed in a new A380 at Airbus Group SE’s interiors factory in Hamburg before entering service in July, followed by six more by the year’s end. All 50 or so double-deckers in the Emirates backlog will get the same treatment, although it doesn’t plan to retrofit the 90 already delivered.

Zoe Ferguson, an Emirates flight attendant who demonstrated the bar at the fair, said passengers can generally be relied upon to limit their own alcohol consumption, although crew are “very vigilant” in ensuring customer safety. While the bars are popular with travelling sports teams, most tend not to imbibe, she said. Whiskey is the favoured drink on New York flights, with gin and tonic preferred on UK routes.


Wurlitzer piano

On-board lounges had their heyday in the 1970s, when faltering economies and occupancy levels as low as 50 per cent prompted carriers to remove seats from their brand new Boeing Co. 747s and McDonnell Douglas DC-10s and fit room-sized drinking dens in a bid to lure travellers and boost revenue.

The luxury touch wasn’t restricted to premium cabins, with American Airlines even installing Wurlitzer electric pianos in its coach-class lounges. Once the economy picked up more seats were added and the bars began to disappear, with their demise hastened as the 1973 Oil Crisis put capacity at a premium.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways brought back the lounge for its Upper Class customers decades later, though only a handful of other carriers — among them Qatar Airways, Korean Air Lines Co. and Etihad Airways — have followed its lead.

Emirates already provides in-flight showers for first-class passengers on its A380s, as does Abu Dhabi-based competitor Etihad, which has taken the luxury push a step further with its Residence suites featuring a lie-flat bed, living area complete with 32-inch television — and a private butler.


Qatar Airways debuts double-bed seats that convert into meeting area

Toulouse: Qatar Airways unveiled a new aircraft seat that can be docked with one next to it to create what the Gulf carrier says will be the industry’s first double bed in a business-class cabin. The berth is far more flexible than the previous generation and will also allow four seats to be realigned to create a mini meeting area, with adjustable screens creating a private suite for couples, Qatar Airways said Wednesday.

The “extra intelligent” design from B/E Aerospace Inc. will give the airline an edge over rivals in the premium market, Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker said after revealing the seat at the ITB Berlin travel show.

The new berth, under development for two years, can be converted into a double within seconds, according to the company, which said the adaptability of the seats will also make them popular with affluent families and pairs of passengers who prefer to sit facing each other.