Flying After COVID-19? We May See Middle Seat Privacy Screens

With airlines beginning to make plans for a post-coronavirus recovery, one idea that gets thrown around fairly regularly is social distancing on flights. This idea is much easier to implement right now while demand is low, but how protected are you really? Two design houses have come up with some interesting concepts to achieve better separation on flights; let’s take a look at those products.

Middle seat privacy screens
Could middle seat privacy screens become an economy class solution? Photo: Factorydesign

Factorydesign’s ‘Isolate’ kit

London based Factorydesign has come up with a concept to make social distancing on flights more practical and more pleasant. The Isolate kit is an easily retrofitted kit that clips onto the middle seat, giving maximum protection to passengers seated in the window and aisle.

Middle seat privacy screens
The Isolate kit is easy to clip onto existing seats. Photo: Factorydesign

A central screen made from transparent plastic allows light to pass through to keep the airy feeling in the cabin. Alternatively, it can be selected in a leather finish, to add privacy between the seats.

Middle seat privacy screens
A solid screen adds to the privacy. Photo: Factorydesign

The smart thing about the Isolate kit is that it can easily be moved between the middle seat and the aisle. This means couples traveling together can sit next to each other, while still being shielded from the aisle.

Middle seat privacy screens
The divider can be switched from middle to aisle seat. Photo: Factorydesign

Another really clever addition is the ability to stash an amenity kit in the central pocket area, which could contain things like antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer. The kit is easily installed on any seat and can be disassembled and stowed when not needed.

Middle seat privacy screens
A hygiene-friendly amenity kit can be added too. Photo: Factorydesign

PlanBay from EarthBay

A separate product is in development from Florian Bajot, designer of the EarthBay concept for living space in the cargo hold. Florian shared his ideas for a post-coronavirus social distancing module with Simple Flying.

Middle seat privacy screens
The PlanBay kit is more comprehensive in its protection. Photo: Florian Bajot

The PlanBay concept aims to provide a kit solution for an empty middle seat to increase physical distancing on board. The product promises to be quick and easy to install and remove, and low-cost for airlines to purchase. As a retrofit solution for current airline seats, it would involve no modification to the existing cabin.

Middle seat privacy screens
The IFE is still accommodated. Photo: Florian Bajot

PlanBay consists of a one-piece panel that fits over the top of the middle seat. It features a rear protection panel, to increase the height between rows, and a lateral protection panel to separate aisle and window passengers more effectively. Just like the Factorydesign kit, there’s a useful table included for additional storage and comfort.

Middle seat privacy screens
The unit is easily fitted to existing seats. Photo: Florian Bajot

While Bajot is under no illusions that this wouldn’t be a popular long-term solution for airlines, it’s an interesting concept that could be useful during the recovery phase. If it receives certification, it could be employed again in the future, should any similar outbreak occur.

Middle seat privacy screens
The retrofit solution can be added and taken away with no special tools. Photo: Florian Bajot

How realistic are these concepts?

While airlines have plenty of arguments against social distancing, a number are already planning to block out some seats in order to assist in passenger separation. Right now, that’s easy to do, thanks to the significantly lower than usual load factors on board.

However, once demand begins to pick up, airlines are not going to be keen to shed a third of their capacity. Indeed, IATA’s Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac just today called for a focus on alternative measures, saying in a statement seen by Simple Flying,

“Screening, face coverings and masks are among the many layers of measures that we are recommending. Leaving the middle seat empty, however, is not.”

While that may be the case, both these products raise some interesting possibilities for the future of intercontinental business class travel. Their COVID potential may well be limited, but more privacy in short-haul business is a very appealing prospect.

What do you think about these social distancing in economy class products? Would you be more comfortable flying like this? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.