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(Bloomberg) -- Flying bars that cater to premium passengers on the world’s biggest fleet of A380 superjumbos are set for a saloon-style upgrade as Gulf carrier Emirates seeks to use the sky-high hangouts to lure affluent travelers.
Out will go the semicircular benches on which passengers have perched since Emirates introduced the on-board lounges almost a decade ago, to be replaced by an altogether more comfortable setup featuring a table for four located either side of the counter and below the superjumbo’s windows.
In addition to the eight seats, the new watering holes will have room for 16 standing guests, so that drinkers can still prop up the horseshoe-shaped cocktail bar if they prefer. And almost in anticipation of people finding it harder to drag themselves away, the areas will get soundproof curtains to separate them from adjoining first- and business-class cabins.
Emirates, the world’s biggest long-haul airline, has “taken inspiration from private yacht cabins” in revamping its lounges, President Tim Clark said in a statement, adding that the design will make the areas “more intimate and conducive for passengers to socialize.” A “champagne” color-scheme and ambient lighting will also be used to give an “airier look and feel.”
The upgraded lounge will be shown off to the industry at the ITB Berlin travel fair from Wednesday, with the first bar due to be being installed in a new A380 at Airbus Group SE’s interiors factory in Hamburg and scheduled to enter service in July. All of the 50 or so double-deckers in the Emirates backlog will get the same treatment, though the Dubai-based airline doesn’t currently plan to retrofit the 90 planes already delivered.
The company’s existing bar featured prominently in a 2015 TV ad, in which actress Jennifer Aniston was shown being offered a bag of peanuts and a hand towel by American-accented flight attendants after asking for her plane’s lounge and shower -- only to be transported to an Emirates A380 where she sipped a martini while describing her “nightmare” to the barman.
On-board lounges had their heyday in the 1970s, when faltering economies and occupancy levels as low as 50 percent prompted carriers to remove seats from their brand new Boeing Co. 747s and McDonnell Douglas DC-10s and fit room-sized drinking dens in a bid to lure travelers and boost revenue.
The luxury touch wasn’t restricted to premium cabins, with American Airlines even installing Wurlitzer electric pianos in its coach-class lounges. Once the economy picked up more seats were added and the bars began to disappear, with their demise hastened as the 1973 Oil Crisis put capacity at a premium.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. brought back the lounge for its Upper Class customers decades later, though only a handful of other carriers -- among them Qatar Airways, Korean Air Lines Co. and Etihad Airways PJSC -- have followed its lead.
Emirates has said that it plans to carry on enhancing its cabins even amid a year of anticipated flat growth in 2017 as the oil price slump continues to crimp travel to Mideast states.
The airline already provides in-flight showers for first-class passengers on its A380s, as does Abu Dhabi-based competitor Etihad, which has taken the luxury push a step further with its Residence suites featuring a lie-flat bed, living area complete with 32-inch television -- and a private butler.
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