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Plane cabins could change dramatically because of the pandemic. Here’s how.

From double-decker rows to color-changing seats, design firms are rethinking the plane cabin as we know it.

A mock-up for a post-pandemic plane. (PriestmanGoode)

As coronavirus cases continue to rise, it’s clear that the standard plane cabin layouts we’re used to aren’t working in a pandemic. A face mask is less reassuring when you’re sitting elbow-to-elbow with a stranger for an extended period of time, with many airlines no longer distancing passengers as the pandemic threatens their business model.

While some airlines continue the responsible-yet-costly move of blocking off middle seats for travelers’ safety, a redesigned cabin layout could mean they wouldn’t have to. There has been an outpouring of design ideas since the pandemic began, from flipped middle seats and double-decker rows, to seat upholstery that changes color when sanitized.

Design firms proposing changes to the average plane cabin are tackling different aspects of the in-flight experience, with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing and increased cleanings in mind.

“It’s important to innovate while being mindful of the realities of the world we live in. We know, for instance, that keeping the middle seat free is not a viable economic model for airlines," says Anna Meyer, a spokesperson for London-based design firm PriestmanGoode. "Equally, we know that screens between every seat does not present the best investment at this time. Nor will it suit all passengers, especially families or couples traveling together.”

Some new seat designs are squarely focused on physically separating passengers, while others aim to implement new technologies that will make it easier to sanitize plane cabins and give passengers peace of mind.

Color-changing seats for business class

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First look at Pure Skies, our vision for the future of aviation. Seen here is the Pure Skies Room, our concept for the future of Business Class . We've introduced UVC light and heat cleaning, in combination with photochromic and thermochromic inks in the materials and finishes. As the heat from cleaning reacts with the inks, a message of reassurance appears on seats, helping alleviate passenger anxiety about hygiene during boarding . The pandemic will have a lasting impact on passenger expectations. Pure Skies is a complete review of both Economy and Business Class cabins. Our vision takes into account development times, airline requirements for revenue streams, increased passenger concerns around hygiene and personal space and green recovery incentives . You can find detailed information about the concept on our website . . . . . #avgeek #aviation #passengerexperience #PaxEx #aircraftlovers #aviationgeek #aviationdesign #aviationlovers #aircraftinteriors #airbus #boeing #plane #futurethinking #innovation #futureconcept #industrialdesign #CMF #materials #render #3Dartist #technology #technews #travel #traveling #travelnews #designleadership #CX #insights #designstrategy . @theapexassoc @runwaygirl @wired @thepointsguy @thepointsguyuk @condenasttraveller @cntraveler @travelandleisure @forbestravelguide @thedesignair

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The most recent technology to make waves is PriestmanGoode’s proposal for “Pure Skies” seating, which includes upholstery that changes color when sanitized with UV light, so that passengers know their seat is clean upon arrival. Once the seat is used again, it returns to its original color.

“Seat fabrics include photochromic and thermochromic inks that react to new cleaning methods like UVC and heat cleaning,” PriestmanGoode said of the material. The new technology is proposed only for business-class cabins, so it will come at a premium and will take “at least three years to develop and certify.”

When could the design take shape in actual planes? “While we can’t comment on specifics, we’ve had interest from airlines, suppliers and seat vendors,” PriestmanGoode’s Meyer said. “There is a clear consensus in the industry that change needs to happen, that the aviation industry is in a state of flux and that for the long-term health of the aviation business, we need to start developing new ideas.”

What it’s like to be a flight attendant during the pandemic

Redesigned economy configurations

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The Pure Skies Zone is our concept for the future of Economy Class . The Pure Skies Zone features a combination of staggered and non-staggered seat configurations, helping to maximise the feeling of personal space and allowing passengers to sit in the groups they are travelling in, whether alone, as a couple or in groups . Dividing screens every other row offer greater separation, help purify the air inside the cabin and alleviate passenger anxiety . Seats in the Pure Skies Zone recline. The mechanism for this is entirely contained within the fabric skin of the seat to avoid split lines and hard-to-clean gaps . The pandemic will have a lasting impact on passenger expectations. Pure Skies is a complete review of both Economy and Business Class cabins. Our vision takes into account development times, airline requirements for revenue streams, increased passenger concerns around hygiene and personal space and green recovery incentives . You can find detailed information about the concept on our website . . . . . #avgeek #aviation #passengerexperience #PaxEx #aircraftlovers #aviationgeek #aviationdesign #aviationlovers #aircraftinteriors #airbus #boeing #plane #futurethinking #innovation #futureconcept #industrialdesign #CMF #materials #render #3Dartist #technology #technews #travel #traveling #travelnews #designleadership #CX #insights #designstrategy #IATA . @theapexassoc @runwaygirl @wired @thepointsguy @thepointsguyuk @condenasttraveller @cntraveler @travelandleisure @forbestravelguide @farnborough_airshow @parisairshow @aixexpo @wireduk @skiftnews @airlinegeeks @theeconomistevents_ @time @natgeotravel @techcrunch @dezeen @designboom

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PriestmanGoode’s vision for economy cabins includes some lower-tech solutions. To reduce the risks posed by high-touch surfaces, renderings propose removing touch-screen televisions in favor of mounts for passengers’ own phones or tablets. They also propose removing seat-back pockets, along with redesigned seat shells without cushion seams in an effort to “eliminate dirt traps.”

Seats are also staggered to separate single passengers from couples, and dividers are installed between every other row. Tray tables are removable and taken away when meals are cleared to avoid being used without cleaning. The seat-recline button is also contained within seat covering to avoid hard-to-clean gaps.

Double-decker cabins

Hoping for something a little more socially distant than the standard three-deep rows? A proposed design from U.S. start-up Zephyr Aerospace aims to completely overhaul plane cabins into stacked lie-flat pods.

Echoing a double-decker bus, the layout is designed for premium-economy class and would prioritize both social distancing and comfort.

While lie-flat cabins might seem like a pipe dream for economy cabins, the start-up quickly surpassed its investment goals for production and notes on its website that Air New Zealand already employs lie-flat sleep pods in economy for long-haul flights.

Reversed middle seats and seat dividers

Somewhere between the streamlined-cabin concept and the double-decker revamp is Italy-based Aviointeriors’ Janus Seat configuration, which reverses every middle seat and implements plastic dividers that snake from window to aisle and separate each passenger.

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POLTRONA “JANUS” Come Giano bi-fronte, il dio dell’ Antica Roma, questa proposta si contraddistingue per l’inversione della posizione del posto centrale della tripla proprio per garantire il massimo isolamento tra i passeggeri seduti accanto l’uno all’altro mantenendo il medesimo comfort. Mentre i passeggeri seduti sui posti estremi, lato corridoio e lato parete, continuano ad essere posizionati nella direzione di volo come usuale, il passeggero seduto al centro è rivolto in senso inverso. “Janus” è una poltrona bi-fronte che consente di separare tutti e tre i passeggeri con una schermatura che li isola uno dall’altro costituendo barriera protettiva per tutti. Ogni passeggero ha il suo spazio isolato dagli altri, anche dalle persone che transitano per il corridoio. Ogni posto della poltrona “Janus” è circondato su tre lati da una schermatura di altezza tale da impedire la propagazione del respiro verso occupanti dei sedili adiacenti. I materiali impiegati nella poltrona “Janus” sono scelti perché sono di facile pulizia e di sicura igienizzazione. "JANUS" SEAT Like two-faced Janus, the god of Ancient Rome, this proposal is distinguished by the reverse position of the center seat of the triple to ensure the maximum isolation between passengers seated next to each other. While passengers seated on the side seats, aisle and fuselage, continue to be positioned in the flight direction as usual, the passenger sitting in the center is facing backwards. So “Janus” is a two-faced seat, in fact this arrangement allows all three passengers to be separated with a shield made of transparent material that isolates them from each other, creating a protective barrier for everyone. Each passenger has its own space isolated from others, even from people who walk through the aisle. Each place of the "Janus" seat is surrounded on three sides by a high shield that prevents the breath propagation to occupants of adjacent seats. “Janus” seat is made of easy cleaning and safe hygienisation materials. The option is available with the shield in opaque material or with different degrees of transparency. #aviation #aircraftseat #airlines #economyclass #businessclass #welcomeonboard

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While it largely solves the problem of getting stuck with a middle seat by equalizing all three spots in the row, this layout isn’t exactly ideal for families with small kids who can’t sit alone. The design also raises the question of whether the seats would be able to recline.

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