How Etihad Airways and other airlines are embracing local culture

The latest trend to hit the aviation industry is all about image - as airlines choose local designs for their cabins and liveries to inject personality into the passenger experience.

Etihad Airways' new livery is displayed. Courtesy Etihad.
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In the past decade, advances in the airline industry have led to passenger comfort unlike anything we have seen before. Now there is a new trend as airlines embrace their local culture to inject personality into the passenger experience.

Close to home, Etihad Airways’ latest amenity kits, introduced this year, are produced in partnership with the social enterprise Sougha, launched by the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development – creating opportunities for more than100 artisans in five UAE towns. The patterns on the amenity kits are based on designs traditionally used on blankets, cushions and Bedouin tents in the UAE.

"People travelling to Abu Dhabi want to bring home a souvenir, something that reminds them of their time here," says the Etihad chief commercial officer Peter Baumgartner. "This is something that tells a story."

The most recent use of local design can be found in Ray Chen’s new China Airlines product. A Taiwanese architect, Mr Chen has utilised swaths of Permisson wood veneer; the cabin is unique and the use of a coherent colour palette, fabrications and finishes ties all the products on board together.

The airline has also delved deeper into Taiwanese culture, showcased in its new “Sky Lounges”, featuring a walk-up bar of Taiwanese coffee and teas, along with local dried delicacies and snacks.

It isn’t just inside the aircraft where airlines are making their mark. The exteriors of the aircraft, the calling card in international airports, are giant billboards, and cleverly executed designs can attract passengers away from their own local carriers.

The Pacific region has experienced the largest increase in these authentic ethnic designs, where nations, which are isolated by long distances, have to work hard to attract tourism.

In the past year, both Ohana by Hawaiian and Fiji Airways have launched their new liveries to much acclaim. Both have harnessed local talent to radically change the carrier’s image.

q&a distinctive designs

Jonny Clark reveals more about the global carriers’ new preference for local designs.

Finnair is another airline to revamp its cabins with a local flavour. How exactly?

Finnair has partnered with the Finnish design company Marimekko to inject humour into the airline as well as working on a host of design touch-points.

The design company, renowned for its contributions to fashion in the 1960s, has helped to create some of the airline’s one-off uniforms and liveries, while also designing the prints adorning the airline’s tableware, pillows and blankets.

“Finnair aircraft will become roving ambassadors of timeless Finnish design and creativity,” says Mika Vehviläinen, the chief executive of Finnair.

Is this really a new trend?

Not entirely. As the oldest passenger airline in the world, KLM has been offering special Delft houses to its business class travellers since the 1950s which have become so collectable there is even a book on them. Since then, a collaboration with the Dutch designer Hella Jongerius has brought a new lease of life to its cabin interiors.

And what about the uniforms?

Carriers have historically tried to look in their own backyard for their uniforms from locally based fashion designers, such as Air France’s Christian Lacroix uniforms, Martin Grant’s Qantas threads or even most recently Vivienne Westwood’s Virgin Atlantic uniforms. “From a design perspective we continually try to challenge the norm and stand out from the crowd,” says Richard Branson, the president of Virgin Atlantic.

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