LONDON: Any airline inviting journalists to “start off in the back, because that’s where you’ll see the cabin to best effect”, is very confident in the quality of its product. In the case of holiday travel operator Air Transat’s first newly-retrofitted Airbus A330, the carrier’s confidence is well placed.
My first impression was like no airliner experience before. The green ceiling and blue walls caused a momentary ‘ground is up’ sensation, but then the eye takes in the sea of grey leather seats. It’s like stepping into a top-of-the-line Mercedes, on a very grand scale.
The seats, by the German ZIM Flugsitz company, are slim and elegant. Choosing the dreaded centre seat of the middle triple-seat unit, I was immediately struck by the personal space available; pitch seemed an inch or two more than I expected and the new seats are notably wide. The headrest at first appears troublesome, but it adjusts. Four ways to be precise. It moves vertically and the ‘wings’ angle in, providing head and neck support with no risk of the wings opening back up.
“The seats are by ZIM; the engineers are ex-Recaro,” company VP operations Jean Cote told the APEX editor’s blog yesterday at London Gatwick, where the carrier staged its big reveal. Having such seating talent at its disposal could help explain the cleverly sculpted seat backs, which provide what feels like 33 inches to 34 inches of pitch in economy class, but are actually the airline’s standard 32 inches.
Flight director Natalie Pelletier points to the reduction of ‘Club’ business-class seats to just 12 (two rows of 2-2-2) from the 21-seat configuration offered on Air Transat’s other A330s. This allows a fraction more space overall in economy class, even though seating there has been increased from 321 to 333, in a 3-3-3 arrangement, according to the airline (which has long offered a nine-abreast configuration on its A330s).
Club passengers enjoy extra attention to detail, more space – a 36-inch pitch – and added extras including power outlets for laptop charging. The seat-back HD screens in Club are 12 inches, compared to the 9-inch units in economy, but all passengers benefit from a large variety of films and television programmes, presented in 13 languages, with subtitling for seven other destination languages.
There’s an e-reader function for the Atmosphere inflight magazine, duty free catalogue and bistro menu too, and passengers can compile their own playlist from a 30-CD collection within The IMS Company’s RAVE inflight entertainment (IFE) system (Lufthansa recently ordered RAVE for at least 80 widebodies). It’s difficult to argue with Cote’s claim that this combination of entertainment, seating and cabin service represents a product comparable to anything flown between the UK and Canada.
Pelletier describes the move from overhead IFE to the new RAVE audio/video on demand system as revolutionary for the airline, from a crew and passenger perspective. “It’s especially good for children, who often couldn’t see the drop-down screens.”
Each screen has a USB charging point, although users will not be able to view their own media. In case of screen failure or damage, Natalie Pelletier says the A330 carries six spare units as standard, so cabin crew can swap out faulty equipment in the air.
And what of that cabin lighting? Capable of generating a multitude of colour combinations, with subtle, gradual changes between colours over 30 seconds to six minutes, the system is managed into a series of carefully created moods. Boarding passengers enter a soft blue environment, the shade exclusive to Air Transat and reflective of its corporate colour. A range of mood lighting accompanies various phases of flight, from taxi, through meal service, to night flying. Wake-up after a night flight is a gentle, gradual affair, the cabin lighting phasing from purple through shades of red to blue, recalling sunrise, albeit over a period of six minutes. In stark contrast to the conventional ‘switch on’ of cabin lights, the airline claims that the sequence helps alleviate jet lag.
Perhaps best of all for Air Transat, not only does the carrier now offer a greatly improved passenger experience over that which is offered on other aircraft in its fleet, but with the new cabin the aircraft is physically lighter. Air Transat’s fleet consists of 23 aircraft, comprising both A330s and A310s.
By January 2014, the $4 million per aircraft A330 refit should be complete, while Jean Cote says that six of the airline’s A310s will also benefit from the overhaul – five others will be retired. ”We always kept weight in mind,” he says. “We didn’t want to get heavier. In fact, the two-tonne lighter aircraft equates to a $300,000 per year fuel saving per aircraft (amounting to 336,900 litres), or around $2.5m for the full A330 fleet, as well as reduced CO2.”
See a video about Air Transat’s new cabin below.