Comment, Transport

When the cabin lighting is this shoddily put together, you have to wonder about the rest of the plane

At least the lighting outside the window is nice

Sales of LEDs are ballooning, just as sales of comparatively power-hungry light sources shrink. The very suggestion that we use LEDs for almost any application seems to win out every time against any alternative light source and, happily for the planet, the change to LEDs is generally an improvement all round.

But is an LED solution always a worthy successor to the alternatives? Or are LEDs sometimes an upstart usurper put together by blind maniacs hell-bent on profit with little regard for best lighting practice? There are, after all, any number of ways that you can string LEDs together, whack them into profiles and team them with light modifiers. Not all of them are ideal, and some can be genuinely awful.

Get blue light wrong during night-time hours and you’re messing with people’s hormones and circadian rhythms. That can’t be good”

I mused about all this while sitting aboard a plane in which the LEDs shone an insipid pale lavender colour – a shade rich in blue wavelengths which, according to Harvard Medical School, ‘… are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood,’ but ‘seem to be the most disruptive at night’. Get blue light wrong during night-time hours, in other words, and you’re messing with people’s hormones and circadian rhythms. And you know that can’t be good.

Given that this was a relatively new plane and that I was only flying during daylight hours, I wondered whether this LED colour was deliberate? The cynic in me imagined that some clever salesperson had pitched the colour as ‘sky blue’, resulting in much head nodding and murmuring of approval by airline management and their advertising executives. And the hint of lavender? Well, who doesn’t like lavender? It is after all in our soaps and oils and gardens.

Perhaps this blue bias was indeed intentional – if this colour is only used during daylight hours and if it automatically changes to another colour that is low in blue wavelengths at night. Achieving this would only require varying the mix of intensities of the colours in RGB, RGBW or RGBA LEDs based on the time of day – child’s play for any good LED dimming system.


Still sceptical

But I remain sceptical until further enlightened, because a similarly pale lavender also happens to be the common result of untuned white (when RGB LED strips are run at 100 per cent intensity for all colours).

What’s more, the way the LED solution had been implemented left me cold. You see, the LEDs were arrayed linearly – perhaps as graze lights – close to the plane’s concave sides and overhead down the central spine. Just like linear fluorescents or neon, but with butt-end shadow gaps that you could have squeezed a hostess through: these ugly and inexcusably large gaps were even larger than the worst of the ‘old’ fluorescent linear solutions. And, as if gaps between LED runs weren’t bad enough, the LEDs were also a tad dotty – due to inadequate diffusion from the opal translucent covers.

I have to say, the plane was otherwise a well-made modern jetliner. Which was lucky, because if the rest of the plane had been put together as badly as the LED lighting arrangement, it would have suffered engine failure from misaligned parts and promptly gone down…

… like a LED balloon.