Aircraft upholstery is not only a matter of seat coverings. It also embraces the carpeting of an airplane and the fabrics on the walls and bulkheads. Depending on whether you are traveling economy class or by private jet, the upholstery will vary in sumptuousness, but it will still need to be lightweight and durable while meeting exacting standards of safety.
A passenger can spend many hours at a time hunched in its grasp, so the single item of aircraft upholstery that will make the biggest impact on him is undoubtedly the seat. To cushion passengers during take-off and landing, the standard aircraft seat will consist of multi-density foam — that is, a rigid inner layer of foam bonded to a softer outer layer that supports the body. The seat is then covered in nylon fabric, vinyl, leatherette or real leather.
Just as important for the passenger's comfort are the walls and bulkheads, which protect him from the noise of modern travel. After receiving a coating of flame-retardant foam, these can be given a variety of coverings. Aircraft upholstery on a luxurious private jet might include walls and bulkheads of buttoned leather. Commercial aircraft use specially formulated fabrics that offer low smoke toxicity and high durability measured in tens of thousands of rubs.
A similar care is taken with the choice of carpets. Manufacturers produce a range of carpeting specifically for use as aircraft upholstery. Made of wool or nylon, these carpets have to be lightweight so they don't add significantly to an airplane's fuel consumption, but they also have to be durable and comfortable underfoot. As well as meeting industry-approved standards for flame resistance, they are treated to repel stains and the kinds of microbes that might thrive in a sealed, air-conditioned environment. Factors such as the weight-to-fuel ratios, flame resistance and comfort apply just as acutely to the interiors of helicopters, for which fabrics have to meet recognized burn-test, heat-release and smoke-toxicity standards.
Despite all these technical considerations, there is still room for fantasy and imagination in the world of aircraft upholstery. There are numerous small firms that service the rich and famous by refurbishing aircraft to certain specifications. They install such accoutrements of wealth as deep-pile carpets, gold-plated light fittings and recliners made of fine-grain leather with hidden spring-released, walnut-veneered drinks compartments built into the sides.