No one quite knows what aviation will look like in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There’s talk of removing middle seats, compulsory face masks and full body disinfection booths at airports – and aviation seat designers are experimenting with ways to make flying more appealing for concerned and conscientious passengers.
Ideas include Aviointeriors’ vision of a row of three economy seats with the middle seat facing the opposite way or installing a protective shield around each seat.
Into the mix comes French aeronautical engineer Florian Barjot’s vision, dubbed PlanBay.
Barjot reckons that what airlines want isn’t a total redesign of the cabin or the installation of new seats, but an easily removable piece of kit that could be installed when necessary.
Like Aviointeriors’ design, Barjot’s concept is aimed at economy class.
PlanBay consists of a protection panel behind the seat and another protection panel between the seats. The structure fits onto the empty middle seat, so passengers in the aisle and window can maintain social distance from one another. It’s not unlike the glass panel setup that business travelers might be used to.
According to Barjot, the installation process is straightforward, the kit is easy to produce and the cost would be low.
The name is a play on the term Plan B – spiraling off Barjot’s previous experimental aircraft interior idea, EarthBay which reimagines the airplane cargo hold.
Aircraft interiors of the future
Barjot tells CNN Travel he developed the concept on his dining room table while his kids played nearby.
He was inspired by his wife, who said she’d be worried about a passenger sneezing on her from behind. When seat pitch is small, the person behind you is likely to be just as close as anyone on your row.
“The idea of a removable kit makes sense when the need for sanitary measures is temporary and/or limited to a geographic area,” says Barjot.
Barjot says he’s had some conversations with aircraft interiors suppliers about making the design a reality but has no idea how and whether the idea will fit into the future of aviation.
On May 5, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents carriers around the world, released a statement suggesting blocking off the middle seat was not something they supported.
Instead, the group recommended face masks.
“Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is low,” reads the statement. “Mask-wearing by passengers and crew will reduce the already low risk, while avoiding the dramatic cost increases to air travel that onboard social distancing measures would bring.”
If a proportion of seats are out of action, the prices of those that are available will likely be hiked up by airlines.
IATA also suggested temperature checks and reducing on-board contact could be options.
Barjot’s own perspective on the matter is that air travel will irrevocably change, and people’s expectations of air travel will likely be forever altered.
“For many of us, taking a plane is the unique moment in your life when you can see the Earth, but instead, the passengers and the industry wanted to bring TV and Wi-Fi as the best ‘passenger experience,’ ” Barjot says.
“Now we experienced two months at home with high levels of TV and Wi-Fi, are these expectations going to change? It took millions of years for humans to reach the dream of flying, not to look at TV while flying. To sum up maybe less travels, but better travels.”