Seattle-based design firm Teague has been developing airline interiors for almost as long as there have been airplanes and recently joined forces with Nike to create a concept cabin that is meant to swaddle athletes in supreme comfort—and, in doing so, unlock their peak performance.
A New Way to Think About Onboard Space The most notable aspect of their design is the sheer amount of space that’s available. A standard jet holds anywhere from 100-400 passengers, but focusing on the 13-man roster of a basketball team and eliminating hundreds of seats is a game changer that creates possibilities for entirely new kinds of high-altitude interactions. “Most airplane design projects are about packaging individuals as efficiently as possible,” says Teague creative director Philipp Steiner. “We’re usually really concerned with the average traveler, but these athletes are far beyond average, and designing for extreme users provides a really interesting perspective.”
Endless rows of seats are replaced with distinct zones dedicated to specific actions: seating/sleep, socialization, recovery, and nutrition. The seating zone features seats, labeled with player numbers rather than arbitrary row markers, that can easily accommodate a fully reclined seven-foot-tall center. The floor of the plane can’t be lowered to accommodate these giants, since it plays an integral role in the plane’s structure, but eliminating the need for overhead bins allows a player as tall as Yao Ming to walk through the aisles unbowed. (Teague designed this concept with basketball players in mind, but worked through the challenges of accommodating football players, many of whom are twice as wide as the average point guard.)
Below the seating area, where cargo is typically stored, is a zone designed for socializing and celebrating victories. A recovery area is located outside of the heavy traffic zones and allows a star player to shake off a stinging loss with a shiatsu massage. A self-serve galley enables players to attend to highly-specific nutritional needs. “It’s a little bit shocking that meal service hasn’t changed very much to give passenger’s more control,” says Teague industrial designer Annaliese Chapa, who experienced life as a high-level athlete during her time as track star at Washington University. “Self-serve meal zones allow for customized meal plans.”
A Flying Data Server Technology permeates the cabin. Wearable sensors embedded into clothing can collect data on the player’s physiology and feed it to the on-board computers. “The plane is a vessel for all the data, it’s a flying server capable of processing data from the athletes garments,” says Steiner. Team trainers could use that data to facilitate the recovery process after the game, say dimming lights for players who need rest, or alerting the catering staff to prepare a shake with the right mix of macronutrients for a particular player.
The in-flight entertainment systems have been redesigned to build team spirit. Players can use seat-back screens to review personalized game plans, taunt rookies, and if successful, watch highlights of themselves on ESPN on the flight home. Even the humble lavatory received a high-tech overhaul. “Hydration is very important when you travel and critical when you recover,” says Steiner. As a result, the design features high-tech urinals that measure hydration levels and feed information to the seat-back screens, alerting players that they’re in need of Gatorade.
These innovations could help a pitcher win the World Series, but many could also be applied to standard jets to help a road-weary sales person ace a PowerPoint pitch. The Lebron-sized seats might be an unaffordable luxury, but a self-serve galley seems like a realistic improvement. Teague designed a new kind of sleeve for players’ legs that plugs into the plane’s HVAC systems and fills with air to help circulation, which is a great pre-game luxury, but could also become an upgrade for long-haul flyers at risk for deep-vein thrombosis.
Beyond the novel layout and gadgets, Teague and Nike’s cabin just looks like a place that a young, stylish, multi-millionaire would want to hang out. “Nike are absolute experts in two areas, athletic expertise and materials,” says Steiner. Flyknit mesh gives players privacy in their seats while maintaining a bright environment. Metal and glass panels would be non-starters in a standard jet, due to stringent FAA regulations, but looser rules for private aircraft allowed the designers to focus on designing a cabin that feels more like a night club than flying cubicle.