Want to see the future of airline travel? Each year at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany, the industry gathers to unveil new ideas for seating, connectivity, catering, and more. The week features plenty of ideas that will almost certainly never be seen on a commercial aircraft but may still influence the passenger experience. Here are some of the highlights from the 2018 edition.
Bunk beds in the cargo hold
As more and more ultra-long-haul routes take flight (for example, the recent London-to-Perth service launched by Qantas), the sleep challenge for economy class passengers grows. Who among us has not dreamed of a bunk on board where a traveler could grab a nap in a truly flat bed, even if for just a few hours? One idea that surfaced during the week pushes the edges of creativity and what is possible within an aircraft cabin.
Airbus and seat manufacturer Zodiac unveiled a “Lower Deck Modules” project that turns the cargo area downstairs into space that passengers can use for more comfort on board. The pair included options like a bar, work desks, or even a kids’ play room, but the real win for passengers is the bunk bed container. Stack a few of those together and 20 or so passengers can each have a (very) small but flat bunk bed to catch a few Zs en route. There are plenty of questions around whether it will ever be built or certified for flight, but it suggests that first-class suites like those on Singapore Airlines and Emirates are inspiring flat-bed concepts for passengers in other parts of the aircraft.
Slimmer seats—more comfort?
Yes, the space between seats continues to shrink. Airlines want more passengers on board to boost profits and manufacturers delivered on that request. The latest versions of those “slimline” seats offer an improvement for passengers: space.
The seating designs continue to evolve with a heavy focus on knee and shin room, even as the row spacing gets tighter. Several vendors are now delivering designs that take a puny 29-inch pitch (the distance from any point on a seat to the same point on the seat in front or behind it) and still offer a smidgen of personal space for travelers.
No, there isn’t enough space to open a laptop and probably barely even enough to watch a movie on your tablet. But when the plane gets to the destination, you won’t also have the seat frame imprinted on your knees.
AvioInteriors continues to push even tighter, showing off the SkyRider seat once again. The semi-upright “saddle” concept first floated around 2010 and is equally unlikely to fly now as then. But the crazy design and tight spacing always attracts attention at the show.
Powering through the flight
So, you’re crammed in and the airlines no longer provide an entertainment screen, but you still have a couple hours on board and need some entertainment along the way. The good news is that dozens of vendors offer streaming movie servers for airlines to carry on board. The bad news is that your phone battery will quickly be dead. Fortunately, in-seat power vendors are stepping up with higher capacity solutions and upgraded interfaces.
IFPL brings the power to the arm rest, for example, saving the trouble of crawling around under the seat. The USB outlet delivers 2.1A of power, enough to charge the current generation of phones and tablets, while the integrated design keeps maintenance costs down. These plugs will fly on AirAsia’s new A320neo aircraft later in 2018.
Industry heavyweight Astronics is looking to skip the outlet entirely, with an upgraded wireless charging solution also set for delivery later this year. The latest iteration of the design offers a significantly wider charging area, so even a mislaid device still stands a chance to charge. It is focused on the premium cabin seats today, but the company is working on options for integrating the kit into tray tables and seat backs for economy class as well.
USB-C outlets are also on the march, with high-power (60W) offerings available to recharge laptops. Both Astronics and IFPL are selling these now (often as a hybrid with USB-A, too); airlines are seemingly keen to get out ahead of consumers rather than playing catch-up.
Self-service snack bars continue to grow in popularity but typically they serve packaged goods, not fresh food. Rockwell Collins displayed a heating and cooling option that would allow for hot, fresh cookies to be served alongside chilled champagne (apparently the ice cream sundae bar is too messy) without loud and heavy temperature-control systems. No word on whether the crowds waiting in the galley for the next batch of cookies would be considered a safety concern.