The recent publication of this most interesting work, coincided perfectly with the 100 th anniversary of the first powered flight by the Wright brothers in December 1903. Out of the century of aircraft travel experience, almost exactly half has seen the presence of jet-powered commercial aircraft. Although the first scheduled services by the British De Havilland Comets in the early 1950's had to be suspended, after a design fault caused several crashes, jet travel gradually became the norm from the late 1950's.

Jennifer Coutts Clay, the author, has spent over 30 years in various management positions in the airline industry, and for many years has run a consultancy out of New York specialising in airliner interior designs. She was therefore uniquely qualified to undertake this pioneering work. This reviewer, with some 2 million kms. to his logbook, also claims some first hand knowledge of aircraft interiors, since his first flight as a babe in arms aboard a 1949 flight in the Middle East. If you must ask, the aircraft was a twin piston-engined Vickers Viking and the itinerary Beirut-Damascus-Baghdad.

Contrary to what many people may think, comfortable and spacious air travel is not a recent development, but a return to origins. From the giant airships of the 1930's to the massive flying boats of the following decade or two, including Pan Am’s unique round-the-world Clipper service on a twin-deck aircraft, beds, dining tables and lounges were almost the norm for long-distance journeys (which of course took much longer due to the slower aircraft, and the necessary multiple stopovers). Air France had bunk beds on some routes as recently as the late 1950's, and this reviewer remembers the leaflet which recommended its passengers “not to be prudish and put your pyjamas on”. Nowadays, airlines provide you with pyjamas, overalls or some other night wear. Space beds and lounges which have started reappearing recently in premium cabins, are only the end of a full circle which took about 30 years.

Technical and mechanical aspects of aircraft have been the subject of numerous works, but beyond the seating plans which some airline timetables used to incorporate to facilitate the choice of seat, how much did you know about what to expect on boarding a particular plane of a specific airline for the first time, and how its interior came to be what it is ? The book is divided into four sections covering Product Branding (developments in each of the three types of cabin, and air beds, which made a brief reappearance in the 1980's with Philippine Airlines and also Japan Airlines), Passenger Experience (from lighting to dining, not forgetting amenity kits ), Cabin Maintenance (you would be surprised how difficult it is to find the right sort of carpet combining image, durability and ease of maintenance), and Marketing Challenge (including the much lamented Concorde, and the onset of the three-deck Airbus 380, virtually round the corner). Each chapter is followed by learned comments from various practitioners specialising in the particular area covered. A full directory of such specialists with contact details is given at the end, together with a list of airline websites.

Among the wealth of information therein, a number of interesting items caught this reviewer’s eye. The appearance of “gooseneck” individual lights to allow privacy when all others are asleep is not a bad idea, though one’s own experience is that it is not always easy to twist them in the exact desired position. Moving the control panel from the top of the armrest (where it could be accidentally set off by your, or your neighbour’s elbow) to the side was a clever move. The ban on smoking on almost all flights made life easier not just for the non-smoking passenger, but also for the maintenance crews. Did you know that leather covers on seats cost two to three times as much as other fabrics, but last up to five times longer ? Some novelties sounded great, but in practice are seldom used, such as the offer to “eat whenever you want”. After several hundred flights, I have yet to see one single passenger disturbing the crew or his or her neighbours at 4 AM, to ask for a full three-course meal service. Airline executives consulted privately in the past strongly advised not to try it on, whatever the advertising brochures said…The elimination of real knives (accompanied in some airlines by all other metal cutlery, a pathetic attempt to replace political solutions to the world’s real problems) has made tackling that economy class chicken an even harder task.

Though lavishly illustrated and in large format, Jetliner Cabins is a very useful and complete reference work, not a coffee-table book. It will also be of equal help to the professionals, giving them a historical and topical sweep, as to the interested frequent traveller. At the end of the day, the airline industry is about passengers. It took some time for the privatised state airlines to realise that. A conversation comes to mind with the lady in charge of the British Airways stand at a major London travel exhibition in the 1980's. “Why don’t you provide free limos to the airport like Virgin Atlantic does ?”. Answer : “Because it is very expensive, and we have a duty to our shareholders to keep costs down”. Well, the shareholders will do well at the end only if the passengers are comfortable and happy. Airline cabins are an important feature of customer satisfaction, together with the quality of the service.

—News Review




ISBN 0-991-41011-4


Grateful acknowledgement is given to the airlines and other organizations credited in this book for permission to use their photographs.
There are other images, also credited, that come from publicly available sources, for example, company sales brochures and websites.
Pictures that are displayed without photo credits come from the Collection of J. Clay Consulting.