Airline Seating Innovations In A Post Pandemic World

Getting back on the plane is likely to be a nerve-racking moment for many travelers. Despite widespread assurances that cabin air is safe, being in close proximity to strangers with unknown hygiene standards is bound to give the long-time locked down passenger cause for concern.

post pandemic business class
What will the future cabin look like? Photo: PriestmanGoode

To address these worries, aircraft cabin designers have been working on a number of interesting seating innovations. With a brief focussed on restoring traveler confidence and improving health and safety on board, some of these solutions could well make it onto the plane in the future.

Let’s take a look at some of the most exciting design concepts out there, and whether they hold real potential to shape the future of travel.

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No middle seat forever?

Many airlines have taken to blocking the middle seat in a bid to provide some degree of separation between passengers. While a blocked middle seat doesn’t provide anything like the recommended six feet of social distance, it does meet with passenger approval in that they’re not rubbing shoulders with a stranger for extended periods.

With this in mind, some designs have emerged to make blocking the middle seat even more effective. Factorydesign revealed a concept earlier in the year that places a privacy screen in between passengers, turning the middle seat into a storage area.

Middle seat privacy screens
Using the unoccupied middle seat for a screen has limited appeal. Photo: Factorydesign

Earthbay designer Florian Bajot presented a similar solution, albeit with additional protection in the form of a high-level screen to be placed between rows. Both ideas are easily retrofitted to existing seats, meaning they could be rapidly deployed with relatively low cost, but how realistic are they really?

Middle seat privacy screens
Another take on the concept. Photo: Florian Barjot

Right now, it’s easy for airlines to stop selling the middle seat, as low demand means planes are rarely flying at capacity anyway. However, in the long run, the consensus is that it will be uneconomical to give up 33% of the revenue on planes. It remains to be seen whether these types of devices make it into the cabin before airlines want to start selling the middle seat again.

Screens for safer travel

Taking the concept of a screen between passengers to another level, Aviointeriors introduced a concept that allows the middle seat to be sold while still providing protection. Its ‘Glassafe’ concept is a simple cabin modification that places a glass screen over the top of each passenger’s head. The screen protects the passenger from their immediate neighbor as well as those passing by in the aisle.

GLASSAFE Aviointeriors
Could glass hygiene screens be the solution to privacy? Photo: Aviointeriors

UK design agency PreistmanGoode also ran with the screen idea, introducing what it calls ‘Pure Skies Zones.’ These zones will put passengers in a ‘bubble’ with other travelers, reducing their exposure from hundreds of travelers down to just six. Floor to ceiling dividers between every other row blocks germ transmission around the wider plane, and staggered seating allows passengers to sit together with their traveling companions or to stay apart.

Post pandemic economy class
Could the future economy cabin look like this? Photo: PriestmanGoode

The zoning concept comes with a bunch of other cool design features, such as antimicrobial cloth, seam welding to remove areas where viruses and bacteria can get trapped, and hard outer shells, again avoiding dirt traps.

So, how practical are these ideas? For a start, the glass hood design introduces multiple additional surfaces that can harbor dirt, not to mention sticky fingerprints. The sheer level of additional cleaning that would be required strikes us as impractical, although the concept itself is pretty well executed.

Post pandemic economy class
The hard shell avoids dirt traps. Photo: PriestmanGoode

The zone idea may not take off, as it would require a full cabin refit to the new staggered seats. However, elements of the design idea could well make it onto the plane, such as the antimicrobial cloth and means of reducing places for germs to hide.

One suite of screening solutions that does hold promise comes from Safran seats. They have proposed a number of different ideas, easily retrofitted to existing cabins, that provide screening on a simpler scale. These range from a simple headrest extension to full seat dividers and have the potential to become something practical for future air travel.

Safran Seats ' innovations
Safran Seats has proposed a number of innovations to facilitate social distancing. Photo: Safran

Something more radical?

Of course, COVID could be just the impetus airlines need to rethink the aircraft cabin completely. Aviointeriors suggested a kind of yin-yang seating arrangement, a design they call the Janus seat. It would see every middle passenger facing backward, with dividing screens between themselves and their row neighbors.

JANUS Aviointeriors
The yin-yang arrangement may not be for everyone. Photo: Aviointeriors

Even more radical is the semi-private cubicle idea brought to us by IpVenture. This would see passengers traveling ibn a double-deck arrangement, with seats in a herringbone pattern and transparent walls between each seat.

Semi Private Cubicle Airline Seats
Could semi-private cubicles be the future of travel? Photo: IpVenture

Given that these ideas will require a full cabin refit, not to mention copious amounts of certification, it’s unlikely we’ll see anything like this take off anytime soon.

What about business class?

Up at the front of the plane, business class still remains out of the reach of the average traveler. Still, the larger space and more separated seating available in this fare class provides an attractive alternative to traveling economy, for those who can afford it.

As such, we can expect to see more separation employed in the business class seat of the future. We’ve already seen how popular doors on business class suites have been, so much so that British Airways is already planning to install it in more aircraft. Going forward, we could see more doors or other means of separating passengers coming into play.

PreistmanGoode has revealed the potential business class of the future, a concept it calls Pure Skies Rooms. These ‘rooms’ have been designed with three key issues in mind: Personal space, hygiene, and touch-free journeys. Passengers would be able to retreat into a fully enclosed cabin, with floor to ceiling curtains, and everything they need contained in their own personal space.

post pandemic business class
Pure Skies Rooms take privacy to the next level. Photo: PriestmanGoode

The IFE is synched to the passenger’s own smart device, meaning they never need to touch the screen if they don’t wish to. The seat itself even provides a visual indication of cleanliness, changing color to indicate that it has recently been sanitized.

post pandemic business class
The seat will give a visual representation of how clean it is at the point of boarding. Photo: PriestmanGoode

Again, the full conversion to the Pure Skies Room would be incredibly investment intensive. However, some elements would be incredible to see on a plane, such as the sanitization reactive cloth.

Would you like to see any of these concepts making it into the aircraft cabin? Let us know in the comments.