BA PEOPLE • July 2019
Duncan Robertson has been with British Airways for 21 years, the first 13 of which were spent working as cabin crew. He continues to spend his working life thinking about the aircraft’s insides, but now in his role overseeing development of the cabin interiors. Duncan’s latest project has been the recently unveiled new business class ‘Club Suite’. He tells The Club all about it
What exactly do you do?
I’m the manager of aircraft product development for the cabin interiors team. That means I have overall responsibility for all the seating, galleys, and cabin interiors - essentially all the elements which can be found on our aircraft. Of course, I don’t work alone. I’m fortunate in that I lead a team of very enthusiastic and skilled colleagues.
Who worked with you on the Club Suite project?
The project is a brilliant showcase of what can be achieved through collaborative working between different teams here at British Airways. That includes the super-talented creative minds in our product and design teams, our research team who have spent many hours gathering feedback from our customers, as well as cabin crew and engineering colleagues. By working closely together, we’ve delivered a product that meets all of our requirements in terms of design, safety, engineering, brand look and feel, service delivery and customer experience.
The Club Suite now comes with its own door – a first for British Airways
Judging from the reviews, people didn’t expect it. But we see a trend in the market of airlines delivering business-class seating with doors. It gives the customer added privacy, should they want it. I think it’s a brilliant addition which is going to transform the customer experience.
Which part of the new Club Suite really stands out for you?
It’s been eye opening to see the level of detail we go to in order to deliver a British Airways product. Elements like our stitching detail, our fabrics, our woodgrain, these are things we work so hard to get right – and they can also be the most challenging, with the very stringent safety requirements. But it’s all been well worth it. The new suite looks fabulous!
What were the priorities you set out to achieve with the new Club Suite?
There were four things we wanted to deliver: all-aisle access, increased stowage, gate-to-gate inflight entertainment and flexible privacy. The door is part of that. Many of our customers want that flexibility, be it via a panel or some sort of screen. It also lets them indicate the level of interaction they want from the cabin crew – especially with more of our planes becoming connected, they may want to work in peace. When they want peace and quiet, the door will help facilitate that.
What was the greatest challenge?
Getting the door declared as safe. It had to pass a number of tests, including demonstrating that customers would be able to exit easily in an emergency. The door was a really important element of the new seat, and the final design has evolved through the process.
Did customer feedback influence the designs?
Of course. From the direct-aisle access, to the greater privacy achieved from the suite door, to the additional storage, vanity unit and mirror, every element of our new Club Suite has been designed with customers front of mind. We’ve customised the product to bring some great touches and the whole design ethos of the cabin reflects a very modern British style.
When will customers be able to sit in the new seats?
They’re currently being installed in our new Airbus A350-1000, the first of which will be delivered to British Airways in July. The aircraft will start flying some short-haul trips from Heathrow to Madrid, before it begins serving Toronto and Dubai in October, and Tel Aviv and Bangalore towards the end of 2019. The new cabin will also be retrofitted onto our Boeing 777-200 aircraft from October.
Interview by Steve Yates