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How Lufthansa became the first airline to introduce heated and cooled seats onboard

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Heated seats are nothing new as anyone who has driven a luxury car can attest. Even the Smart Car offers heated seats as an option.

In fact, heated seats have been a thing in the automobile world since 1966 when General Motors debuted the technology on the Cadillac Fleetwood. Since then, they’ve become standard across high-end vehicles, warming bums on cool Autumn days or frosty Winter mornings.

And, as anyone who has tried them can attest, it’s a very pleasant experience: a far deeper warmth than can be achieved by blowing hot air around the cabin.

So why has it taken until 2023 to see this technology on an aircraft?

How Lufthansa introduced heated and cooled seats onboard

The first airline with heated seats

Last month, Lufthansa unveiled its next-generation aircraft seating, which it is calling Allegris. In the cavernous halls of a former power station at an in-person event in Berlin, I was able to see and sit in brand-new seats, including a new First Class suite and business class cabin. You can read my article about Lufthansa Allegris here.

Whilst the honeymoon suite in first class understandably received the most attention, Lufthansa also announced it was adding in-seat heating and cooling for all First Class and business class passengers – an airline first.

In his keynote speech, Jens Ritter, CEO of Lufthansa, said:

“Nothing is as individual as the personal temperature perception.In the future, our premium class passengers will be able to select their own personal microclimate. Some passengers feel too warm; other passengers prefer cooler temperatures whilst dining or warm temperatures whilst sleeping or vice versa. No problem, our new seats can be warmed or cooled by the individual passenger.”

To achieve this first for passenger comfort, Lufthansa partnered with Swiss-based Caynova to become the launch customer for these features. Caynova already supplied the airline with pneumatic seats for its premium cabins.

How Lufthansa introduced heated and cooled seats onboard

According to Cesar Uparela, Chief Commercial Officer of Caynova, the company had been developing in-seat heating and cooling features in parallel to Lufthansa’s research and design for the new Allegris seats:

“We acquired heating and cooling IP and licenses for the aviation sector from Gentherm Corp, one of the biggest seat heating and cooling supplier in the automotive world. We wanted to expand our seat comfort feature portfolio with thermals, because we saw a large potential for the product.”

Adapting automotive technology wasn’t just a plug-and-play solution. As anyone who has ever worked in aviation will know, it’s a miracle that anything gets certified for use on aircraft.

The stringent regulatory requirements are one of the reasons it often takes so long to get new technology on board – and why we’re only now seeing Bluetooth connectivity become standard on aircraft.

“There were many challenges we had to face to bring the technology into an aircraft. The two main ones were certification of components (especially heating) and reliability.

To put this into perspective, components for car seats are designed for an average use of 2 hours per day. The usage of seat heating and cooling components on a widebody aircraft is higher by a factor of 10! Therefore a business class seat is occupied for, on average, 20 hours per day. In addition handling and usage of the features is a lot rougher than in a personal vehicle, since the passengers don’t own the seat.”

According to Kai Peters, Senior Director of Customer Experience Design at Lufthansa, “the life span for a cabin is between 8-12 years.”

How Lufthansa introduced heated and cooled seats onboard

How do Lufthansa’s heated seats work?

Heating a seat is a relatively simple and well understood process, and these days you’ll find all heated products – from heated seats in cars to electric blankets – rely on the same technology.

Caynova’s technology is no different, and uses a resistive heating wire provide conductive heat. This is the same technology you can find in your toaster at home. As Cesar Uparela explains:

“A resistive wire turns electrical energy into heat. By using a control circuit, this happens in a safe and controlled manner, with just enough electrical current supplied to achieve the passenger’s selected temperature.

In order to prevent any fire hazard, the resistive wire is stitched into fire-resistant blocker material within the seat foam, which also helps to create an even distribution of heat throughout the seat. The system includes fail safe measures in order to prevent harm to a passenger or the seat in case of system malfunction.”

When all is said and done, the resistive wire should be imperceptible. Your seat should warm up as if by magic. Having tried it on the Allegris First Class Suite mockup, I can confirm the technology is very responsive and comfortable.

How Lufthansa introduced heated and cooled seats onboard

Not just heating, but cooling too

Even more impressive is that Lufthansa is introducing in-seat cooling as well. This is a more difficult problem to solve as you can’t just insert a cooling cable, but Caynova was able to develop a pleasingly simple solution by harnessing the power of the air around you.

In this case, the cooling effect is achieved through the use of a fan and some clever material choices. According to Cesar Uparela,

“Warm air is pulled away from within the seat surface (around and from underneath a passengers body) with a low noise fan.”

For the fan to work, the seat cushion and seat fabrics must be breathable to allow the passage of air. For this, Caynova’s sister company Lantal Textiles has developed an Airflow Seat Cover which supports the seat heating and cooling system.

According to Peters, this works with a “3-mesh-layer…for uniform and unobstructed air flow.” Uparela adds that “the proprietary and patented technology allows for optimized airflow on the seat surface.”

In layman’s terms, the air is being sucked out from within your seat which creates a cooling sensation on the body. This is a remarkably low tech solution which avoids the use of potentially toxic refrigerant liquids and heavy compressors often found in fridges and air conditioning units.

Another benefit of this solution is that it also sucks away moist and humid air, to create what Cesar Uparela calls a “dry and crisp seating experience.” So, if do find yourself overheating, you’ll quickly be able to cool back down again.

Aviation’s hottest new technology

In both cases you’ll be able to select the desired temperature from a sliding scale on your in-seat control screen, with each passenger able to customise their own settings.

This should help to offset the uniform cabin temperatures and create a much more customisable micro-climate.

I asked both Cesar Uparela and Kai Peters whether they thought this technology would become the next ‘must-have’ in premium cabins. Cesar said:

“We strongly believe that seat heating and cooling is the next big thing and will become standard across premium cabins. It is a huge upgrade for your personal well-being. In a few years down the road you won’t be premium if you don’t offer seat heating and cooling to your passengers. Airlines will follow where car manufacturers have led the way.”

Kai is equally confident:

“Our customers have explicitly asked for this unique feature during the seat’s development and are now enthusiastic about it. We are certain that seat-heating and cooling will be a great new feature and add comfort for them.

We expect other airlines to follow and know that this feature has already found interest with other airlines.”

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this feature on Qatar Airways, which is currently developing a second generation seat for its Boeing 787-9s. Qatar Airways has often pioneered premium seat innovations and disrupted the industry when it introduced its game-changing Qsuite in 2017.

For now, though, this feature will launch on Lufthansa with SWISS also installing the technology from 2025. We will have to see if other airlines take it up. Either way, I can’t wait to try it.

Comments (43)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • L Allen says:

    “To put this into prospective,…” Did you mean perspective?

  • Lady London says:

    Heaven forbid there should be a draught anywhere in Germany. Now on a German aircraft near you.

    I’m not sure I want heat and moisture from another passenger’s seat blown around unless the cabin air flows have been adjusted. Giving each passenger their own air vent might be even more necessary now.

  • TimM says:

    Thus begins another race for the bottom.

    Japanese hotel toilet seats are famously heated and can give a massage. There was an entire department for them at the department store I visited to buy one but they were hideously expensive so left empty handed. I thought one would have been quite a talking point with my guests at home.

    Re. cabin temperature, in recent years I have found British low-cost carriers decidedly cold. Mind you, I always book an exit row seat for the legroom and a window seat for the free entertainment. I am told by cabin crew that these seats are colder. I would have thought if anything that warm air would be leaking out not -30 degrees C low-pressure air leaking in. The thought that there would be any leakage is concerning. Perhaps it is just less insulation in the doors than the fuselage? Now I pack a small fleece blanket – the sort they hand out on long haul. I have heard other passengers complaining about the cold – mostly those already dressed for the beach – and the stock response is they will tell the captain – when the cabin temperature these days can be controlled by cabin crew from the touch screen at the front. I think it is a money-saving measure. Everything is about fuel consumption these days.

    • Rhys says:

      What are you on about?! The bleed air from the engine is very hot. It actually needs to be cooled down before it goes into the cabin.

      • TimM says:

        Simple physics. The cabin is being heated and that energy has to come from somewhere, in this case fuel. Whatever heat is diverted from the engines is that bit less providing thrust.

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      “I would have thought if anything that warm air would be leaking out not -30 degrees C low-pressure air leaking in”

      Back to school for you … there are three mechanisms of heat transfer, not just convection…. 😀
      Someone geeky will no doubt provide a fuller answer, but,basically the door will have plenty of inner mechanical workings and sensors compared to an average bit of fuselage, and therefore a lot less insulation.

      • Lady London says:

        Yup. the coolness is why I love sitting next to the emergency exit.

        Though even I have begun to wonder how wise I was, to choose those seats, if the airline blanket is inadequate and there’s 14 hours flying at 38,000 feet through the Pacific night….

    • Lady London says:

      “another race for the bottom” followed by an on-topic example,
      Did you really mean that @TimM ? 🙂

  • vlcnc says:

    I hope this is extremely reliable, as if this malfunctions or is not maintained it could be potentially uncomfortable flight. I always get concerned with new added features like this as it is just another thing to go wrong.

    • Rhys says:

      If it doesn’t function it doesn’t function – there’s no negative effect in the case of failure.

      • Sean says:

        I guess they means if it is unable to lower the temperature. For example you end up with your seat stuck on the hottest setting.

        • Mike says:

          Surely there’d be a fuse that can be simply pulled out.

          • QFFlyer says:

            I really don’t see the cabin crew meddling with the fuse box in flight just to try and switch off a broken seat heater 😂

  • Chris says:

    I was one of those people who dropped something into their seat a few months ago. Besides burning embarrassment; I learnt If you haven’t had the captain of the flight help dissemble your seat when you land in Sydney you haven’t really flown first class. When it needed a ground engineer to onboard to dismantle the seat further well…

    Besides the build of the seat being surprisingly simple – the cover was velcroed in place and lifted up, the adjustable lumbar support was nothing more than a plastic bag with a hose.

    What did surprise how much garbage was in the seat. We remove 3 varyingly full plastic bottles; no end of crushed AirPods, and about 15 pounds in cash. Have to wonder how that would impact the airflow.

  • The Savage Squirrel says:

    My car’s heated seats are nice, but flip the seat to the cooling function and the sensation is identical to the one you get when sitting on a soaking wet seat or bench. Can’t see that being too popular….

    • Chaz says:

      I disagree – on a hot summers day, a little bit of airflow around ones ring can be quite refreshing.

    • Roy says:

      I think the idea is to REMOVE the ‘moisture’ that can accumulate in the nether regions, thus cooling the grapes and plums.

  • Ed says:

    This is Lufthansa we‘re talking about?
    Oh – so when exactly are those seats going to be in the planes ✈️ 😆 2024, 25, 26…

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