November 27, 2023
The Science of Comfort Outside the Seat

When most people think about comfort, few of the words that come to mind are scientific. But comfort in aviation is inherently and fundamentally the product of applying scientific calculations to the passenger experience, sales director Matthew Nicholls explains when we dive into the topic.


“When we talk about the science of comfort, we can measure the mass, we can measure the physics, we can measure the scientific dynamics of it, but there's a whole other element that revolves around the psychology of comfort,” Nicholls tells us. This science can be broken down into three disciplines to consider: thermal, physical and psychological comfort.

This disconnect between thermal and physical comfort will be familiar to many travelers — or even just in the office — because we all have an individual specific range of comfortable temperatures. Think of that colleague who always has a warm layer to hand if the air conditioning gets brisk, even while another colleague might be in shirt sleeves even when the space is at its coolest.

On the aircraft, the science of thermal comfort is complicated by the nature of the space as well: crew are able to set temperature by cabin, but usually the galley space is the coldest part of the airplane. As a result, to avoid being uncomfortably cold, the crew end up setting the temperature in the cabin higher than they otherwise might, which some passengers find too warm. New options like Lufthansa Technik’s HeatNOW galley floor heating can help to solve this

But so much of comfort is psychological — Nicholls calls it “incredible: you can literally make someone feel more comfortable or less comfortable by the way that you talk to them. That's got nothing to do with sound waves — it is literally just the psychological condition of your brain.”


Everything around the passenger affects their situational comfort at any one time. Light, heat, airflow, colour, objects (like seatbacks), other people, what’s on the seatback (a film, or just beige plastic). So does their personal situation: the time of day, how tired they are, whether it’s a connecting flight, whether they are going on holiday or on a work trip, if it’s the departure or return flight, or even what’s going on in their lives


Credit: Lufthansa Technik


That’s all difficult for an airline to affect, but what they can affect — to an extent — is how the airport experience has been, and (to a slightly lesser extent) how getting to the airport has been. So much of the experience at the interaction between airline and airport has been outsourced that the first time a passenger meets someone who actually works for their airline is at the door of the airplane.

At the same time, the balance between airport fees and retail have led to the common passenger complaint of airports feeling more and more like a shopping mall, with the inescapable duty-free labyrinth specifically designed to confuse and overwhelm travelers.

A great counterexample here is Terminal 2 in Munich, co-owned by Lufthansa, which was designed from the ground up to focus on a swift, simple passenger journey. “I think about the times where I feel elevated in stress levels, heart — back to the scientific data side — in my entire travel journey from the moment I booked my ticket to the to the moment I arrive at my destination, and it really is an origin to destination issue,” Nicholls says. If stressed, he explains, it affects how he perceives the onboard product: “I am naturally not going to be able to feel the
intrinsic comfort of that cushion. And there are so many things along the way in the journey that stressed me out.”

While much work is being done to make seats and seat areas more comfortable, he concludes, and “while we can do a lot in terms of the physical comfort, it would be really good to see a much bigger holistic view of what comfort is for the passenger.”

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