The Airline Boarding Music Edition
On branding, emotion, and composition
One from the archives today. Back with our travel edition tomorrow.
Colin here. I haven’t been able to find definitive confirmation that they played it, but my first distinct memory of an airline’s music choices was deplaning a Virgin Atlantic flight in London while Orbital’s Belfast played. It was a considered, pitch-perfect choice in music supervision. And when you consider Virgin Atlantic’s cultural relevance at that moment in say 2003, it checks out.
The music is a perfect soundtrack for the end credits of a long journey. There’s a little dissociative melancholy, some grandeur, and an earworm synth line. The way the song hit made me think about how an airline cabin is an opportune place to experiment with sound as a way to present the brand.
Why is this interesting?
We think a lot about what goes into the look and feel of an airline’s advertising—touchpoints like lounges, TV spots, and the mobile app experience. But the sonic texture that greets you when you enter a plane also has a really strong impact. Flying, even on a short hop, is an experience. It is even more when you are traveling from, say, LAX to Doha. And many brands go through painstaking consideration to make sure the tone they set when you are boarding the plane is hitting the right note.
Noted aviation geek Ben at the blog One Mile at a Time compiled a list of the best airline boarding music. He thinks largely the same, saying, “As someone who is obsessed with flying and associates a lot of memories with it, I can’t help but notice the boarding music that airlines use. It’s a small touch that can help set the tone for a flight.”
I won’t go through all of the tunes he’s selected, but here are a few of mine that has been firmly lodged in my mind.
Emirates discontinued their boarding music, opting instead to play modern pop music at boarding, but I thought this older cut was a sophisticated way to board an A380 (from the lounge, of course):
I worked on Etihad’s brand and marketing several years ago. And when I was back and forth frequently from the US to Abu Dhabi, this was the music that was ingrained into my brain, over and over.
It’s a really interesting composition, and there’s some Middle Eastern mystery and allure to it, as well. At this stage for me, it really sits alongside a lot of adventures I had on that airline in that era.
Finally, not to be upstaged, Qatar Airways ups the drama and strings with their new boarding music:
For me, it's a tie between the Emirates music and the older Nicole Kidman-as-spokesperson-era Etihad music. There’s something about hearing it repeatedly, and it is imbued with all of the joys and stresses of travel. And when I scan through some of the Youtube comments on all of these compositions, I know that I’m not the only one feeling this. (CJN)
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
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