Wallpaper* and Airbus: the future of flying
Wallpaper* explores the innovation, design and comfort of the latest jet from the Airbus stable, the A350 XWB, and discovers how this global leader in aeronautics adapts cabin architecture and technology to meet the exacting demands of the world's airlines. Qatar Airways pushes ahead of the curve with their 5-star A350 cabin and on-board service
It’s the smoothly sculpted, elegant kick of the wing tips on the Qatar Airways Airbus A350 XWB (for Xtra Wide Body) that has the design fraternity, aircraft aficionados and frequent flyers united in rapturous approval. Pert, and Thunderbirds-ish, the so-called Sharklets add a gracefully sweeping flourish to the A350 XWB’s impressive total wingspan of 64.8m, not just for aesthetics, but to boost overall efficiency, reduce drag, save fuel, lower noise emissions and improve take-off performance. It’s part of a holistic approach to a new generation of luxurious air travel that is smoothly complemented by the attention to detail evident right across Qatar Airways’ passenger service.
Climb aboard the Airbus A350 XWB and an atmosphere of calm capability pervades the generous and airy business-class interior architecture. ‘Ergonomically designed for maximum space and comfort’, its unique one-two-one seat configuration is subtly equipped with the level of privacy, comfort, personal attention, connectivity and elegantly catered pleasure that saw Qatar Airways named the World’s Best Business Class Airline at the 2014 World Airline Awards and the airline with the Best Business Class at the Business Traveller Middle East Awards 2015.
A high staff-to-passenger ratio means that service is never less than bespoke and always clairvoyantly attentive; a glass of champagne will be ready on your arrival at your seating module to sip while you peruse the menu and wine list and familiarise yourself with the Wi-Fi, large-screen entertainment system and 3D-audio, noise-cancelling headsets.
If you feel the need to multi-task with the world’s first dual-screen interface, you can play a game on your handheld device as you wait for a movie (one of 2000 entertainment options available) to load on your personal Thales Avant touchscreen TV. As with the most meticulously planned interiors, the Qatar Airways people have taken time to get the air conditioning and lighting just so – natural light is filtered by electromechanical window shades that go from transparent to opaque, while ambient mood lighting is carefully choreographed via a dynamic, full LED system in tones and colours to suit the time of day and destination, minimising jet-lag symptoms and creating a sense of serene wellbeing. This Wallpaper* passenger ordered a peach and honey smoothie, logged on to on-board Wi-Fi, did some work, then hit the horizontal button and fell asleep. (The combination of light and shade certainly worked for me – I went from long-haul flight into Frankfurt straight to a dinner engagement without a hint of fatigue or time-zoned disorientation.)
On-board creature comforts include cosmetics by Giorgio Armani, bed linen by Frette and food by chefs you’ll recognise from your international city breaks. Nobu Matsuhisa and Vineet Bhatia, explain the airline’s team, spent months adapting and testing their respective specialties for Qatar Airways’ passengers, taking into account not only flavours and spices, but how the taste buds are altered at 30,000 feet, and what types of food are most suited to long-haul flights.
Wallpaper* enjoyed an amuse bouche of Matsuhisa’s black cod with miso, Bhatia’s sesame and herb rice tikkis, followed by grilled prawns, hammour and lobster, all of which were served to the same standards of presentation, precision and proportion that one would expect on the ground. ‘Qatar Airways understands my philosophy,’ explains Matsuhisa. ‘It’s like a nice marriage, a balance in the food. Perfect is difficult, but I like to be as close to a high point as possible.’
Another high point is the view of the Qatar Airways Airbus A350 XWB’s exterior from one’s dining table at Qatar Airways’ slick, vast and super-connected Al Mourjan Business Lounge (think airside Elysium with catering to match) central to the recently completed Hamad International Airport at Doha.
Because Hamad International is used as a transfer hub to myriad, global destinations (and Qatar Airways recently announced new routes to Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta from 1 January 2016), it has been meticulously planned to give transient visitors and destinational travellers alike the most spectacular impression of its Qatari home. It succeeds on all counts.
Designed by Hong Kong-based architects HOK, the emphasis is on coolly capable, five-star Qatari hospitality. The airport’s Emiri Terminal, for instance, a gateway for the local royal family, government officials and visiting dignitaries to Qatar, was inspired by traditional dhow sailing ships. Here, you can expect to be wafted through to your lounge by a personal attendant, who addresses you by your name and waits, as you indulge in slickly efficient, table-service hospitality, until your flight is called and it’s time to walk through the airport to the gate.
But it was the take-off experience that left the biggest impression on Wallpaper*; because the Airbus A350 XWB is significantly quieter than its airborne competitors when hitting runway speeds, we needed to keep checking the cinematic display of the pilot’s CCTV screen to confirm that the undercarriage was actually about to go up.
How did they do this? The A350 XWB is a true game-changer of the skies. Noise-suppressing acoustic liners replace bulky, heavy sound insulation. Meanwhile, over 70 per cent of the plane’s weight-efficient airframe is made from advanced materials, combining composites (53 per cent), titanium and advanced aluminium alloys, helping to make this one of the lightest aircraft of its type. Bringing together the very latest in aerodynamics (for instance, the wings have been designed to adapt during the flight, morphing while airborne for maximum aerodynamic efficiency), design and technology, the A350 XWB offers a 25 per cent reduction in fuel burn and in carbon dioxide emissions per passenger compared to current-generation aircraft in its category. Expertly choreographed international travel and languorous, business-class horizontalism has never been so considered, or considerate.