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Floating furniture, noise-canceling seats: Is this the future of air travel?

March 25, 2022
7 min read
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The shortlist for the Crystal Cabin Awards 2022, have been announced, treating us to a glimpse at the next-gen world of air travel.

Hailed by organizers as “a creative playfield where designers, engineers and visionaries come together to plan the future of the airplane passenger experience,” it’s even more reason to keep saving those points for future trips where some of these gadgets and inflight gizmos may one day be rolled out.

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Spanning eight categories, the innovative concepts and cabin designs aren’t just about comfort and creating sci-fi-like future projections. They also tackle the many challenges of tomorrow. Areas such as sustainability and the continued threat of COVID-19 are all addressed, with nominees including major aerospace firms, boutique design studios and even bold students looking to make a mark of their own.

Related: 5 simple tech innovations that would revolutionize the travel experience

Here are some of the designs that piqued our interest…

Floating furniture

Since the dawn of commercial air travel, designers have strived for ways to maximize cabin space while juggling comfort, profit and increasingly bolt-tight safety restrictions. It’s not an easy task, but design studio Teague and component manufacturer NORDAM have seemingly surpassed themselves with this "floating furniture" collaboration, which brings wide-body comfort to the single-aisle business class in left-field fashion.

(Photo courtesy of Teague; NORDAM)

Dubbed Elevate, and aiming to increase space for passengers, all seating and fixtures are connected to the sidewall and aisle as opposed to the floor. We can imagine that after boarding this beautiful cabin, the only thing left on the floor will be your jaw.

(Photo courtesy of Jiayi Yu, Reutingen University)

Related: Could this coffee shop seat design make business travel more productive?

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Another idea with the potential to change the way we sit on planes is from Jiayi Yu, a student at Reutlingen University. Yu's swivel seat design -- known as Shift Cabin Interior (seen above) -- allows formerly fixed seats to be arranged in a variety of positions, be it for business or relaxing in the skies, providing airlines with another way of increasing the number of passengers without making them feel squeezed.

Noise-canceling seats

If you’re still left in awe at the power of noise-canceling headphones during flights, you’ll appreciate this idea from ACM Aircraft Cabin Modification’s MYZONE, which effectively turns your entire seat into an active noise cancelation (ANC) pod, embedding said tech behind your headrest.

(Image courtesy of MyZone)

It's supposedly compatible with any airline seat, and the team behind it says the system can also use window panels to achieve a 3 dB reduction in airplane noise by releasing conflicting sound waves that effectively neutralize the offending ones.

Related: The next generation of inflight noise canceling has no headphones

Invisible Covid shield

Given the brutal impact of COVID-19 on the travel industry, it should be no surprise that the design world is responding to the challenges with real verve. None more so than Teague, which makes this year’s shortlist for a second time thanks to AirShield, an ingenious device that creates an invisible shield comprised of air around passengers.

(Photo courtesy of Teague/Pexco Aerospace)

Working with Pexco Aerospace, Teague’s design attaches to an existing PSU rail to direct airflow above passengers and lessens their chance of catching anything nasty. It's sort of like a steroid-pumped version of the current HEPA filters on board flights.

Related: Face masks on flights could be here for years to come, according to experts

Not a million (air)miles away from Airshield is a sophisticated clean air system from Weigele Aerospace, Vientum, which utilizes existing clean air technologies used in school classrooms post COVID-19 and applies them to the airplane cabin space. An ultra-realistic way of making the skies safer for tomorrow.

Related: First look: Delta’s snazzy new first-class recliners that are raising the bar

Smart safety

The list of things that can go wrong with faulty electronics resulting in mid-air fire is long. With this in mind, Safran Cabin developed the Fire-Resistant Cargo Container, which can inhibit Category D fires for six hours, giving the pilots precious additional time to land safely.

(Image courtesy of Caeli Nova)

Caeli Nova made the shortlist thanks to the Cordillera emergency oxygenation system, which uses patented breathing technology to allow an airplane to divert at a higher altitude to a suitable airport following a decompression event. As well as lowering the risk of a major accident, it could also improve sustainability -- its creators claim the system would save 1.2 million tons of CO2 emissions annually should it receive a global rollout.

Sustainable solutions

The Cordillera isn’t the only device blowing away the competition in the eco-stakes. Other sustainable ideas nominated included a recycling system for worn airplane seat cushions (courtesy of cushion maker Metzo and manufacturer The Vita), and RECARO Airplane Seating, shortlisted for a modular, lightweight plug-in seat table system that could reduce airplane weight and save 1,000 tons of CO₂ for every 50 airplanes.

Onboard projection

Want to embrace your inner Bond villain when you fly privately? How better than looking out into your own simulated shark tank? With the Explorer Concept, Lufthansa Technik wants to give private jet passengers control of their surroundings courtesy of an internal projector system that allows the cabin ceiling and walls to be covered with incredible projections -- including underwater habitats if they so choose.

(Image courtesy of Lufthansa Technik)

Real time shopping

Capitalizing on the rise of e-commerce in every other walk of life, is it any surprise it’s slowly making its way onto long-haul flights as well? In collaboration with Airfree and Thales, Singapore Airlines has already rolled out KrisShop, the world’s first inflight shopping experience and suitably finds itself among the Crystal Cabin nominees.

Running on the airline’s in-flight entertainment system, it allows passengers to shop in real-time using a credit card. Passengers can arrange a delivery to their home or even mid-route. It's ideal if you’re the type of traveler who regularly forgets something important and needs to buy at your destination.

AI and biometric personalization

One to watch in every sense of the word, tech company Gentex Corporation is nominated for their mission to fuse a camera-based iris biometric scanning system with in-flight entertainment. The innovation gives passengers instant access to their travel information, entertainment accounts and other preferences.

It's already working on similar tech for the automotive world where drivers can increase security, personalization and even authorize in-vehicle payments. So, there’s no reason it couldn’t apply to the skies.

(Image courtesy of Gentex)

Elsewhere, evoking HAL 9000 with a chef’s hat, Airbus Operations’ AI-based Airspace Food Scanner is designed to capture data about passengers’ onboard food consumption. The system provides airlines the opportunity to better cater to your taste and moderate your eating habits.

Intrigued by the nominees and want to dig a bit deeper? Visit the official Crystal Cabin Awards website for more information. The 2022 awards will be held in Hamburg to coincide with the Aircraft Interiors Expo on June 14.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
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There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

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  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees