Great or goofy? This is what the future of aircraft cabins looks like

Feb 29, 2020

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Airplane seats that become bunk beds, a wheelchair that goes from check-in to in-flight and meal trays made from biodegradable and edible materials are among 24 ideas and inventions on the shortlist for this year’s Crystal Cabin Awards, which celebrate innovations for the inside of aircraft cabins.

A few of these ideas, including “The Loft,” a social space for Upper Class passengers on Virgin Atlantic’s new A350-1000s that doubles as a mood-lit entryway, are already flying.

But many of the concepts on the list are just that, great ideas that may soon – or someday – be on your plane.

Here are some of the innovations we’re rooting for.

Going green

Concerns about climate change, sustainability and reducing cabin waste are growing concerns in aviation.

London-based PriestmanGoode, well-known for its design of cabin interiors, including WestJet’s new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, is nominated for its eco-conscious Zero economy meal tray. The tray avoids single-use plastics by using food-safe materials made from coffee grounds, algae, bamboo and rice husk.

To save water – and reduce an airplane’s weight and fuel consumption – Diehl Aviation’s Greywater Reuse System sanitizes and reuses water from the lavatory handbasins to flush the toilets. 

Upgrades in the economy cabin

Some of the nominations for improvements in the economy cabin may make flying back there a bit less awful.

Aviation Aerospace’s “Space For All” idea turns a bulkhead seat into a lounge seat or a bed. Put all the armrests down and three seats can be turned into 17 square feet of shared sleeping space for children and adults.

In the Netherlands, the students at Delft University of Technology who are partnering with KLM on its design of an innovative, V-shaped aircraft called the Flying-V are nominated once again. This time they’re back with a design for collapsible bunk beds in the plane’s economy class section.

As their entry explains, “by allowing the middle bed to slide up and half of the bottom bed to fold down, this triple bunk bed can easily be converted into three seats for during takeoff and landing, which is a requirement to make quick evacuation possible.” 

Accessible innovation

You may have read about, witnessed or experienced firsthand the frustrations and challenges passengers who use wheelchairs must endure, from having their wheelchairs lost or broken by airlines to the lack of accessible lavatories and appropriate transfer and safety equipment.

Ciara Crawford’s Row 1 Airport Wheelchair System addresses the fact that the ever-shrinking airplane seat creates increasing barriers for passengers with reduced mobility.

Her wheelchair ‘system’ is a multipurpose seat that can be used for the entire journey. It has user-controlled steering and can be strapped into existing aircraft seats, which means fewer seat-to-seat transfers and greater independence for the traveler.

More innovative ideas for aircraft cabins

Students and faculty at the University of Cincinnati and Live Well Collaborative are nominated for their Coffee House Cabin idea, which offers personal and small-group workspace for business travelers and those who do their best work in cafes.

Envisioned as a product to be priced above basic economy and below first class, the Coffee House Cabin has tables in the center of the aircraft, with room for four passengers seated at each table.

“Retractable screens located in the center of each table provide a partition for passengers seated directly across from one another,” the designers explain, and “for safety, during takeoff and landing all seats rotate toward the front of the aircraft and table wings fold down and are secured.”

And, in the Visionary Category, we’re intrigued by the Airspace Cabin Vision 2030 from Airbus, which promises cabin layouts with flexible seating and sleeping configurations, in-flight lounges with transforming modules and more personalized experiences for all passengers.

Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), “crews will work in a digitally enabled environment, allowing for more efficient operations and more time spent with the passenger,” Airbus promises. And “unique cabin ambiences will be created by surface lighting, OLED [organic light-emitting diode] screens, artificial outside views as well as individual ambience settings for the in-seat space.”

Must we wait for the future?

Winners of the 2020 Crystal Cabin Awards will be announced March 31, 2020 at the Aircraft Interiors Expo.

All images courtesy of the Crystal Cabin Award unless otherwise noted.
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