Scents on a plane: Why the aviation industry is waking up to fragrance


Ever walked past the open door of a bakery, caught the scent of warm cinnamon rolls, and been transported back to your mother’s kitchen?

Our sense of smell is remarkable, and can easily trigger memories and emotions. Recognizing the power of our sniffers, businesses are starting to add a special aroma to their brands.

Airlines are capitalizing on this olfactory opportunity, and many are beginning to utilize scents on-board.

Among others, Singapore Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Turkish Airlines use fragrances to enhance the passenger experience, from scented towels to an almost imperceptible, pleasing perfume in the cabin.

‘Dry scent’ technology

Soon, airline passengers may experience FIVE, a new cabin fragrance diffusion system from Zodiac Aerospace’s California-based Pacific Precision Products.

FIVE isn’t an acronym, but was chosen by Zodiac to represent the sense of smell — the fifth sense, according to Brian Jorgensen, Zodiac’s director of sales.

Zodiac is also a major supplier of lavatories, galleys, seats and interior components to aircraft manufacturers and airlines.

FIVE was created in ordered to address what Jorgensen says was an “unfulfilled need” in the VIP aviation and business-jet market.

Zodiac’s customers in this space were able to satisfy their high-end passengers’ pampering needs except in one crucial area. They needed “a luxurious fragrance experience,” says Jorgensen.

FIVE uses a special “dry scent” technology created by its fragrance partner, ScentAir, a company originally founded by a former Disney Imagineer in the early 1990s, with a vision to make scent part of the entertainment and amusement experience.

Zodiac is marketing FIVE to business and VIP aircraft operators who fly everything from Learjets to 747s.

For airlines, Jorgensen suggests that “using scent [can] enhance the airline’s brand and customer retention, boost on-board sales, and provide their passengers [with] a completely enhanced sensory experience.”

Felt, not smelt

Each of Zodiac’s units can hold up to four different scent cartridges which can be programmed to send allergen-free aromas throughout the cabin at different times during a flight, diffusing the scent at a molecular level throughout a space of about 1,300 square feet.

With the continual turnover of the cabin air, the fragrance dissipates quickly when the unit turns off. And unlike liquid or spray fragrances, the FIVE dry-scent diffuser leaves no residue on seats or clothing.

“The experience has been designed to be very subtle, almost just felt in a subliminal way, below conscious level,” says Jorgensen.

It should be “something that positively influences the moods and emotions of the passengers, but without necessarily being detected as the smell of a specific fragrance,” he adds.

No more smelly aircraft restrooms

Aircraft lavatories and galleys might receive special attention, Jorgensen adds, “turning a bad smell experience into a positive one.”

The 50 fragrances initially available in the FIVE catalog represent eight different fragrance families, including Luxe & Sophisticated, Relaxing & Soothing and Voyage & Escape.

The scents also reflect the favorite aromas of different regions and cultures.

“Fragrance preference today is generally consistent with well-established consumer preferences like taste and flavors across regions,” says Ed Burke, vice president of customer strategy and communications at ScentAir. “Geography, which drives regional availability of food ingredients and living habits, plays a large role.”

The FIVE Warm Bread fragrance — “fresh baked bread with a hint of warm butter” — is a favorite in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Black Orchid, a “sophisticated lush green floral fragrance,” is enjoyed in Asia Pacific markets. And Lemongrass and Vanilla Bean is popular in Mexico, and in Central and South America.

“Traditionally, both vanilla and chocolate are universally popular fragrance notes that perfumers have used commonly,” explains Burke.

“In scent marketing, citrus- and tea-based notes are becoming more and more universal. Generally known for their subtlety and clean feeling, most regions would find notes in these families pleasant and resonant.”

ScentAir’s customers are primarily in the hospitality, gaming, medical and real estate industries, and include hotel brands Hilton, Marriott, Starwood and IHG.

Intriguingly, the company also works with the US Department of Defense to provide scent solutions for training and simulation purposes.

We’ve no idea what they’re working on — though it seems soon it won’t be just skunks who use scents to defend themselves.

Creating a signature scent

When creating a new scent, “we approach [the] process very collaboratively to learn as much as we can about the brand, their story and their audience,” says Burke.

“Much of the initial research goes into the demographics and regional preferences of the audience to narrow out certain aroma profiles.”

In a creative process that mirrors how a visual logo or audio identity is developed, “we look for fragrance materials and approaches that reflect the brand story and experience.”

A scent can be developed in a little as a few weeks, but the process will usually take a couple of months for research, creation of samples, testing and revisions, according to Burke.

“The beauty of fragrance is that it has the power to transport you instantly to any point in your life and transform your current experience,” summarizes Jorgensen.

“When I smell fresh-cut grass, I’m instantly a kid again ready to run out onto the baseball field.

My favorite fragrance, though, is the smell of lilies. Lilies are my wife’s favorite flower, and were featured prominently at the hotel we stayed at during our honeymoon.

“No matter where I am in the world, the smell of lilies always takes me home.”