The Future Of Economy Class? Yin-Yang Seating

The problems presented by the COVID-19 pandemic run far deeper than just the immediate shock. For aviation, many of the fundamentals of flying have been brought into question; in particular, the penchant for stuffing as many people into the cabin as possible. Aviointeriors, an Italian design firm, has presented a new concept for economy seating that could go some way to tackle this problem.

JANUS Aviointeriors
Could a new configuration keep us safer when flying? Photo: Aviointeriors

S-shaped seating for socially distant flying

Earlier today, we revealed a concept product from Italian design firm Aviointeriors called Glassafe, a product designed to create some sort of social distancing in flight, without airlines losing seat capacity. While that’s an easily retrofitted product, designed to clip on to existing cabin seats, the same company has also unveiled a concept for airlines who want to go one step further.

The Janus seat, so named after the two-faced Roman god, aims to create social distance on board by changing the fundamental way we expect to fly. This yin-yang style arrangement will see one-third of passengers facing away from the direction of travel, perhaps not what we’d choose for our inflight experience, but something we’ve come to accept on other forms of transport.

Passengers in the aisle and window seat would face forward, while those in the middle seat face backward. It’s a concept that has been seen to some degree in the business class cabin, although never before in economy.

Of course, merely alternating the direction of travel won’t tackle social distancing issues. To provide additional protection, Aviointeriors have proposed a large transparent screen around the top of the seats, effectively shielding each passenger from their immediate neighbor and from those moving around in the aisle.

JANUS Aviointeriors
Shields protect passengers from immediate neighbors and those passing through the aisle. Photo: Aviointeriors

How realistic is this concept?

The Aviointeriors take on social distancing is interesting to see. However, the product itself leaves many questions requiring answers.

While the alternating direction of travel goes some way towards adding protection for passengers, it also adds some challenges for airlines. The company claims that the footprint of the new triple seat will be no larger than existing configurations, but how would inflight meal service work? With those barriers in place, will aircraft be able to evacuate as quickly and safely as regulations require?

The efficacy of the product is also somewhat questionable. While passengers are protected from immediate neighbors and passing aisle traffic, the end result is that one person is left facing two others. Would this effectively increase the risk of exposure?

JANUS Aviointeriors
Would the protection be effective? Photo: Aviointeriors

Added to all this is the expanse of plastic screens that will be in place on the aircraft. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is known to persist for as long as seven days on stainless steel and plastic. This means that every surface would need to be thoroughly disinfected between every flight for the product to live up to its safety ambitions.

This, in itself, would be a considerable commitment for airlines. Pre-COVID-19, turnarounds at airports usually take under an hour, slightly more for widebody flights, and don’t include thorough cleaning of anywhere other than galleys and toilets. While this may well change in the future, the Janus seat brings with it a significant cleaning burden, not to mention to cost implications of swapping out an entire cabin of seats.

Bottom line

Overall, it’s great to see companies like Aviointeriors working to develop products to help us get back in the air. However, between the two product concepts that have been revealed this week, the Glassafe idea looks like a more workable solution.

Right now, both products are patented concepts, but the company says it’s ready to begin production. To get these products onto aircraft, it’s going to need to win over both airlines and regulators and answer the many questions that remain.

Would you like to travel like this? Would it make you feel safer in a post-COVID world? Let us know in the comments.