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Earlier this month, Virgin Atlantic became the first airline to introduce bespoke aromatherapy on board as part of its new relaxation package, which includes a pillow spray from naturalist beauty brand This Works. Image via Virgin Atlantic

APEX Media: Smell is our oldest and most complex sense; with powerful ties to memory, the right smells can trigger pleasant emotions and create a restful state. Airlines are partnering with aromatherapists and perfumers to help passengers feel refreshed and revived upon arrival.

Earlier this month, Virgin Atlantic became the first airline to introduce bespoke aromatherapy on board as part of its new relaxation package. Passengers in the airline’s Upper Class receive a hot towel infused with de Mamiel essential oils, which vary according to time of day. During daytime flights, an aromatic blend of bergamot, sweet orange and yang ylang, called Enliven, helps passengers relax and feel refreshed; during overnight flights, the fragrance is called High Altitude and includes fragonia, eucalyptus and lavender to help boost immunity and induce sleep. A pillow spray from naturalist beauty brand This Works is also offered during overnight flights. According to the airline, the spray is clinically proven “to improve sleep quality and aid a better, more restful night’s sleep.”

While Emirates offers first-class passengers Matakana Botanicals’ Sleep and Focus Sniff Boxes (concentrated aroma pearls), which help passengers relax on board and counter jet lag, other airlines, like British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Qantas, have established brand aromas that are infused into the passenger experience in lounges and in the cabin. Not only do the familiar fragrances help put passengers in the mood to fly, they also provide reassurance that passengers are flying with an airline they already associate with comfort. It’s a technique commonly used in retail and hospitality to build brand memory and encourage purchasing behavior.

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Emirates offers Matakana Botanicals’ Sleep and Focus Sniff Boxes to help passengers relax on board and counter jet lag. Image via Stefelle Inc.

Iberia has introduced an aroma called de Mediterráneo, which has top notes of lemon, bergamot and citrus blossoms; followed by a floral heart of rose, iris and jasmine; and undertones of white musk, vanilla and sandalwood. It is a delectable fragrance built on fresh aromas, soft and delicate to create a restful sense of place on board. Heathrow Airport also applied this concept at Terminal 2, giving passengers a whiff of exotic destinations within reach from the airport. A specially designed scent globe featured custom aromas developed by Design in Scent representing Brazil, China, Japan, South Africa and Thailand.

Scent branding is a well-established practice, but it requires careful consideration. While some may find aromas soothing, others find them intrusive, and some passengers suffer from scent allergies. And the fact that we can react to identical smells differently in the context of other sensory and experiential factors means that pleasant, restful scents can have an enduring negative effect when paired with an otherwise unpleasant flight experience. Because our smell associations are enduring, airlines must strive to ensure that all aspects of the cabin enhance passengers’ scents of place.