Flying Post Pandemic: Could We See Semi Private Cubicle Seating?

How will we fly in a post-COVID world, where everyone is ultra-concerned about hygiene? This is the question on many a product designers’ lips right now and has already seen some interesting concepts thrown about. This week, we spotted another unusual design idea for keeping us safe from germs in flight – semi private cubicles on two levels. Here’s what it’s all about.

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

Fathoming the post-COVID cabin

The impact of COVID-19 can be felt in every aspect of our lives. From not being able to see far away family and friends to learning to queue in a socially distanced manner, we’ve come to accept some of the deep and disruptive changes brought about by the pandemic.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

But in the longer term, we have to plan for a world where we live with this risk. While a vaccine may be developed for COVID-19, there’s strong doubt that it would be widely available and distributed in the short term future. And, even if it did, what’s to say something else won’t be around the corner?

As such, businesses large and small are looking for ways to become more hygienic in the future. None more so than the aviation industry. As one of the sectors hit hardest by COVID, airlines and aviation companies around the globe are looking at ways to make flying safer, to restore passenger confidence and to enable us all to get moving again.

Teague AirShield
Teague has developed an invisible curtain that could make post-COVID flying much safer. Photo: Teague

We’ve seen a number of ‘out there’ concepts for aircraft cabins, from increasing the flow of air from the vents to form an invisible curtain to various means of shielding passengers from their neighbors and others on the plane. But one concept has this week caught our eye, which would not only protect passengers from transmission, but would actually make flying coach a whole lot more comfortable.

Living in a box?

Californian company IpVenture has patented some really unusual designs for the cabin seating of the future. Called Semi-Private-Cubicle Airline Seats this configuration promises to give passengers more privacy, more protection and more space, all while maintaining the same seating capacity as a regular cabin.

Semi Private Cubicle Airline Seats
Passengers are arranged over two stories. Photo: IpVenture

It works by arranging solo travelers in a two-story configuration down the middle of the aircraft. Clever design elements allow the person below to have adequate headspace, while also adding a large amount of recline to the seat. The illustrations feature footrests and a good five inches of lean back, something that is usually the preserve of premium economy only.

Semi Private Cubicle Airline Seats
Seats would offer more recline than is usually possible. Photo: IpVenture

Each passenger is separated by a Perspex barrier, which is key to the design to prevent the transmission of germs between passengers. The upper level is accessed by a staircase, while the lower levels butt onto the two aisles of the plane.

Semi Private Cubicle Airline Seats
The lower level is accessed from the aisle. Photo: IpVenture

There are also two runs of two-seat placements by the window, presumably for passengers traveling with a friend. These appear to have tall screens between rows, again to prevent the spread of bugs.

Semi Private Cubicle Airline Seats
The company says the design would keep passengers safe without losing any seating capacity. Photo: IpVenture

Co-founder of IpVenture Peter Tong explained,

“It is a solution that is very applicable to protect passengers against COVID or other contagious diseases, without sacrificing the number of seats, while increasing seating comfort.”

How realistic is this concept?

In terms of how it works to stop the spread of disease, it certainly seems to tick all the boxes. Physical barriers serve to protect passengers from each other. In terms of PaxEx, this unusual herringbone arrangement would allow for way more recline than we would typically see in an economy cabin.

Semi Private Cubicle Airline Seats
The cubicles would be very private spaces. Photo: IpVenture

However, we can see some problems with the concept. Tong himself admitted that,

“…it requires drastic changes from the current fuselage design.”

It’s not something easily retrofitted; therefore, it would require a whole cabin refit. That’s a major investment for any airline, and most don’t have a ton of spare cash right now.

Semi Private Cubicle Airline Seats
The top floor is accessed by a stairwell. Photo: IpVenture

As well as this, we can see certification being an issue. Airplanes have to be capable of being rapidly evacuated. With some of the passengers on an upper level, with just one stairwell down and various screens impeding their escape, whether it would pass the strict safety standards required for commercial aircraft is debatable.

Finally, the practicalities of this arrangement, from an airline perspective, are hard to appreciate. Trolley service over two floors would be impossible for a start, and when it comes to cleaning down the cabin, there are far more surfaces to disinfect than in a regular arrangement. Also, where does the carry-on go?

Still, sometimes from crazy ideas come small elements of genius. It’s interesting to see some of the innovative new ideas emerging from this crisis. Perhaps some parts of them will eventually be taken forward to improve air travel for all.