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New airplane seats for the coronavirus era?

April 23, 2020
4 min read
New airplane seats for the coronavirus era?
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The coronavirus outbreak has already led to sweeping changes across the airline industry. Could airplane cabins be next?

One aircraft seat manufacturer rolled out new designs this week for economy seating that it believes could help carriers adjust to flying in the age of coronavirus.

Among these designs is the "Janus" seat, the most radical of the two unveiled by Italian firm Aviointeriors. The concept features forward-facing window and aisle seats with rear-facing middle seats. The middle seats are flanked by a wraparound clear shield that separates them from their two neighboring seats.

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Aviointeriors says the layout helps “ensure the maximum isolation between passengers seated next to each other.”

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“Each passenger has its own space isolated from others, even from people who walk through the aisle,” the company says, adding that the “high shield ... prevents the breath propagation to occupants of adjacent seats.”

The concept name was inspired by the Roman god Janus, typically shown with two faces – one facing forward and the other backward.

The proposed 'Janus' aviation seat proposed by seat-design firm Aviointeriors. (Image courtesy of Aviointeriors).
The proposed "Janus" aviation seat proposed by seat-design firm Aviointeriors. (Image courtesy of Aviointeriors)

Aviointeriors also unveiled a simpler design called “Glassafe,” which is a more typical three-abreast coach-class layout that features a transparent shield separating the upper torsos and heads of the passengers.

Similar to the Janus layout, Aviointeriors says the goal is to “minimize contacts and interactions via air” of the passengers.

The seat designs may or may not ever see the light of day. Aircraft seat manufacturers are constantly rolling out new designs, some practical and others more outlandish concept pieces unlikely to be seriously considered by airlines.

More: 7 ways coronavirus could forever change the way we travel

The Glassafe seat design proposed by Italian firm Aviointeriors. (Photo courtesy of Aviointeriors)

On the outlandish side, for example, Aviointeriors is perhaps best known for its “ultra high-density” SkyRider-style seat that it has proposed in several versions in recent years. That seat received lots of media attention but little traction as a serious option for airlines.

Still, the fact that Aviointeriors would roll out new concepts meant to adjust to coronavirus concerns underscores the severity of the problems the pandemic has created for the airline industry.

It’s unclear whether any airlines might currently be looking for such solutions, but carriers will likely face a dilemma about how to handle social distancing concerns.

The SkyRyder seat design proposed by Italian firm Aviointeriors. (Photo courtesy of Aviointeriors)

For now, a number of airlines – including Alaska, American, Delta, Spirit and United – are blocking middle seats or restricting sales to help space out passengers. Although that might work as a stopgap solution, taking these steps long term would be calamitous in terms of revenue.

Aviointeriors CEO Paolo Drago noted that prospect in an interview with FlightGlobal, saying: “Maybe it would be better to keep the aircraft on the ground in that situation.”

His company’s Janus interior could present a solution, he said. He also touted the design as offering extra privacy, even after coronavirus fears ebb.

But before you see it on your next flight (if ever), hurdles remain to be overcome.

“To reach that point I would need to launch a program, and to do that, airline X, Y or Z would have to show significant interest before I can invest in design or production man-hours on it,” Drago told FlightGlobal.

Stay tuned …

More: The hidden costs of saying goodbye to the middle seat

Featured image by Image courtesy of Aviointeriors.

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