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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.

  • roberto says:

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

    No more beans in the lounge for me then……

  • Can says:

    If they are following car seat technology 50+ year behind, are we going to see massage seats in the next decade?

    • Luma says:

      Some seats have had a pretty rubbish massage feature for a while now

      • Stu_N says:

        The ex-BMI midhaull A321s that BA inherited had this feature on the 1-2 layout lie flat business class seats. It wasn’t that convincing. The seats must have been at least 15 years old; was fortunate to get one in Edinburgh – Heathrow a few years ago.

        I believe all the aircraft have been refitted with standard interiors now.

    • Rhys says:

      That’s been around for ages! Not very good, though.

  • Thywillbedone says:

    “In this case, the cooling effect is achieved through the use of a fan …”

    As I suspected when first announced. Had this in a previous car – as useless as the proverbial chocolate teapot.

  • Andrew J says:

    I hate the feeling of heated car seats, very disconcerting. And planes are always too warm anyway, I can’t imagine this feature ever being used. The cooling option, if it works sounds good though.

    • insider says:

      heated car seats are great when you get in a car that’s 3 degrees. When it’s a more pleasant temperature, they are not that useful, which I suspect will be the case on the aircraft. I can see cooling being useful if it actually works, as there have often been times that I can’t sleep when it’s too hot in the cabin, although an air vent at seat level probably would have been an easier option to implement

  • WaynedP says:

    Has this technology not already been trialled in the air on private planes and executive jets ?

    I’ve never been on one myself but I’d be surprised if some of the sumptuous leather seats I’ve seen in pictures aren’t able to be heated.

  • zapato1060 says:

    Theyll be a shock if there’s no bladder control.

  • aseftel says:

    Not entirely sure about this. It’s useful in a car as a car is often the wrong temperature because it has been kept outside, or in a cold garage, or the sun is streaming in. An aircraft cabin should be a fairly pleasant temperature. I think my preference would be for investment in getting the cabin temperature consistently right. I appreciate there’s an element of personal preference but I’ve been on too many flights where the cabin temperature can’t have been perfect for anyone.

    • Froggee says:

      This. I have been far too cold and far too hot on the same route operated by the same airline using the same type of plane. Surely it is a simple matter of having a couple of thermometers in the cabin and putting the purser in charge of ensuring that the temperature is vaguely where it should be as opposed to letting a random member of the cabin crew turn it up or down to the max because of a personal preference.

    • Rhys says:

      It may shock you to know that not everyone feels the cold the same. My aunty keeps her house a broiling temperature – uncomfortably warm at night for me!

      It’s long been proven that offices are often kept at men’s preferred temps with women feeling cold etc. So there is no Goldilocks temperature.

      • Andrew. says:

        I had that issue in an office I was temping in around Summer 2011. The men were required to wear suit and tie (jackets on), women were wandering about in strappy dresses.

        Men were absolutely boiling, lassies were protesting it was cold.

        • Mike says:

          I wouldn’t say kept at men’s preferred temperatures but at a temperature to wear a suit in, as that’s required dress for men in many businesses. Women, who have significantly more freedom in dress, both to dress cooler or warmer, tend to dress for outside in warm weather and then are surprised that an air conditioned office is colder. It’s a problem I have little sympathy for. Women can dress in clothes of similar warmth as men, or even just keep a cardigan on the back of there chair for time when they haven’t worn enough clothes.

    • Alex W says:

      +1, the problem for me is inconsistent temperature. You go to sleep just right and wake up sweating because the ovens have been on in the galley. You take your blanket off and then wake up again shivering.

      If these new heated/cooled seats can automatically adjust for changes in cabin temperature then great. If you have to keep waking up to twiddle a knob then it’s a waste of time.

  • PrinterElf says:

    Maybe if Lufthansa’s cabins weren’t set to 24°C for the entire flight, cooling seats might not be needed!

    • Thywillbedone says:

      Pro tip: best to ask male flight crew if they could adjust the temperature down …they are more likely to agree (than women) that it is too warm and thereby oblige.

      • zapato1060 says:

        Sexist. Just kidding, will use that tip, thanks.

        • Peter K says:

          Actually based on science. I listened to an item on this (I think BBC radio 4) where a study was done with men and women allowed to adjust a thermostat to their preferred temperature, and on average woman preferred it 3 degrees warmer than men.

          • Lady London says:

            Sleeping bags have male and female temperature gradings.

          • John says:

            It’s the other way round in my house. But on planes I prefer it slightly cooler as I can wear my jacket instead of having to store it somewhere.

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