When it comes to having a drink at 38,000 feet — gone are the days of glamorous offerings like in-flight dining rooms and on-board pianos.
Instead, passengers — even when seated at the pointy end of the plane — have been restricted to the confinements of their rather plush seats or perhaps a pokey corner lounge big enough for a handful guests.
Bars in the sky have become noticeably absent from certain carriers, especially in the US, who have instead chosen to bulk up the plane with seats rather than sweeten a passenger’s experience with bottomless booze flowing inside a mile-high bar.
But with competition for bums on seats booming, the ’60s are back (sort-of) and the in-flight bar scene has taken a step back in time.
Last month, Virgin Atlantic launched their new plane with what they dubbed the “largest social space in the sky”.
Flying between London Heathrow and New York JFK, the next-generation Airbus A350-1000 totally overhauled their on-board bar into a more lounge-like space for socialising and working.
It’s a concept that’s also been adapted by Qatar Airways’ with their QSuite offering, the iconic Emirates 380 cocktail bar and most recently, a featured destination in the multimillion-dollar refurbishment of Qantas’ A380 aircraft.
Turning what was once a private area for cabin crew on the second level behind the cockpit, the new and improved first class and business lounge area takes passengers from the sky to what feels like a seat inside a New York bar.
Dark and moody, the multimillion-dollar refurbishment has transformed the space with group-seating booths for around 10 passengers, sleek wooden finishes and co-working spaces — a nod to the new era of socialisation during long-haul flights.
Speaking to news.com.au, head designer David Caon — who was the mastermind behind the refurbishment — said the changes aligned with a trend toward experiential travel where passengers were wanting to spend more time out of their seat, either to do some work or simply have a drink with friends or colleagues.
“The biggest part of this project was the lounge at the front of the aircraft, and creating a space that will work,” he explained.
“We wanted to create an area where, if you were travelling with a friend or if you had a friend sitting somewhere else, you could potentially go to the lounge and spend some time together and socialise or meet someone travelling in first and have that point of common ground to interact.”
Mr Caon said as part of the design process, he repurposed the A380’s original lounge design which saw passengers seated at low benches facing the same direction eliminating any social interaction between flyers.
Now, along with a small seating nook where the cabin crew locker room and office use to be, Mr Caon said the self-serve minibar for drinks and snacks is a leap from the plane’s original design into a space that creates the ultimate space for both business and leisure passengers.
“When you look at the research that we do on wellness and ultra-long haul travel, movement is the most important thing and having somewhere to go will get people to move,” he said.
“That’s why the social space is becoming more and more important … but we also wanted to create something that’s a real standout feature and completely new for the aircraft. Ultimately, passengers will decide how the space is used.”
Along with booth seating and a large flat screen TV, comes the all important self-serve mini bar. For guests who have access to the on-board lounge, snacks and a Rockpool menu by Qantas Chef Neil Perry will be on offer.
Passengers will be able to chose from dishes including dry laksa goreng with fishcakes and seared prawns to mushroom arancini in a tomato ragu as part of custom-designed menus for each route.
The lounge also features a new self-service bar, while customers will also be able to order signature cocktails including an Australian Negroni with mountain pepper and river mint as well as the Qantas signature gin and tonic with pink grapefruit.
Those who fly business class can expect the most drastic changes on board, with the removal of the skybeds. Instead, the carrier has now introduced the new and improved Qantas business suite as a replacement, which features a 1:2:1 configuration giving aisle access to every passenger.
For those travelling in first class, the luxurious space just upped the ante with suites now featuring contoured cushioning, elegant seat finishes and a larger, higher resolution entertainment screen.
Those travelling in economy can also expect some changes with a new colour palette and improved in-flight entertainment and pillows. There are also 30 fewer economy seats and an increase in premium seating from 35 to 60 seats.
The launch of the newly refurbished A380 had its first flight on Tuesday, with two more aircrafts set to be finished by the end of 2019. The remaining nine planes will be completed by the end of 2020 — just in time for Qantas’ 100th birthday celebrations.