The history of aircraft cabin design can be described as staid at best. Following the presumption that airlines know best what passengers wanted and needed, manufacturers traditionally relied on airline guidance for cabin design. Boeing, however, had a vision for the Dreamliner. Although economics put the ill-fated Sonic Cruiser project to bed, the company was intent on retaining the modern, innovative design concepts for its successor. It decided to continue its passenger-focused design research to develop the Dreamliner's interior.
In 2002, Boeing opened the Passenger Experience Research Center (PERC) adjacent to the Boeing Tour Center in Everett, Wash. At PERC, the company performed qualitative studies that tapped passengers' brains to figure out their wants, needs and desires. To do this, Boeing used a proprietary method, dubbed Archetype Discovery, to extract key psychological and emotional components regarding air travel common in all passengers. Although the details of the methodology are a tightly guarded secret, Archetype Discovery uses specific questions and techniques to tap into unarticulated wants and needs by exploring each participant's early experiences with flight. Boeing used what it learned in order to evoke the fascination with flying passengers felt during their early experiences [source: Emery].
Boeing also asked passengers to participate in idealized design sessions. Potential fliers were invited to create an ideal aircraft interior from scratch, within viable technology and operational constraints. Those arched ceilings that are a hallmark of the Dreamliner's interior? They can be attributed to what Boeing learned from those sessions. The company found that passengers idealized the use of modulated space, reminiscent of the architecture found in churches. Low-ceilinged vestibules that transition into open, spacious interiors evoke a welcoming, inviting experience [source: Emery].
Finally, thanks to that superstrong fuselage, Boeing had more options regarding cabin pressure, ventilation and humidity -- why not directly test these conditions on potential passengers? The company teamed with universities to conduct studies to identify how passenger comfort and well-being could be optimized. For instance, such studies revealed that passengers experienced fewer headaches and less motion sickness and muscular discomfort at a cabin pressure equivalent to flying at 6,000 feet (1,829 meters) than they did at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), which is the standard level of pressurization used on comparable size aircraft [source: Emery]. Boeing adjusted cabin features so passengers will feel the ill effects of long-haul flights less. This means fewer headaches, dry noses and eye irritations.
It took nearly a decade to perform this research, but that isn't abnormal for an industry where product inception to market typically takes 10 years [source: Barratt]. Boeing broke new ground with its research, however, as no plane manufacturer has ever devoted so much attention to the passenger experience before.
In the end, the Dreamliner arrived three years later than anticipated. Was it worth the wait? Let's see what the plane can do and how it will affect the future of air travel.