As airliners sit languishing on the tarmac while humans around the world distance themselves from one another, one Italian company thinks it’s found the solution to air travel in the social-distancing era, for us economy passengers, at least.
While the big fancy seats at the front of the plane will likely not have to change to keep passengers apart from one another, the situation is rather different in the main cabin, where personal space has been at a premium for decades as airlines sought to squeeze a little more profit out of each flight.
These days, though, the incentive to pack cabins to the brim has fallen away as the specter of flights becoming vectors of infection replaces arguments over seat-reclining as the primary topic of discussion in the industry.
One company has decided to jump on the task of creating a safer plane seat while airlines keep their jets grounded. Aviointeriors, an Italian designer and fabricator of cabin fixtures for commercial airliners, has put together a mockup for an economy-class cabin that is designed to keep passengers a little farther apart from one another in ways designed to minimise exposure to one another during travel.
The cabin design, named “Janus” after the double-doored Zündapp microcar two-faced Roman god of change and transition, features a houndstooth layout of aisle and window seats faced forward and a centre seat faced backward between them. To prevent any exchange of those nasty virus-vector droplets, a plastic screen separates travellers from one another.
Avioineriors maintains that the Janus design takes up no more room than the conventional unseparated conventional seats currently installed in almost all airliners. However, emergency exit rows may need to retain their current set-up to meet regulations.
According to a report from FlightGlobal, a commercial air travel industry publication, Aviointeriors’ proposal should be good to go in about six months should the industry still require a new arrangement. In the meantime, a similar but more basic design could be retrofitted to existing aeroplane cabins in fewer than three months, assuming regulatory hurdles are met. This design, called “Glassafe,” would only require fitting a transparent canopy over each seat to shield passengers from their neighbours.
Aviointeriors argues that both of these alternatives offer significant advantages in terms of efficiency over empty middle seats, the current proposal to return passengers to commercial airliners which have been idled or pressed into all-freight duty since the pandemic began.
I think the proposal is worth serious consideration, even if I agree with my esteemed colleague Erin Marquis that any seating arrangement that encourages eye contact between strangers is a horrifying proposition. Maybe they can tint that plastic. I think it’d go a long way.
Also as someone with rather long legs, this arrangement appears to provide a little more room, at least from what I can see here. Also, giving travellers in middle and aisle seats something to lean on and sleep is pretty appealing to me too, even if that plastic screen will need a bit of a wipe-down before I touch it.
Whatever the outcome, I’m happy that airlines are finally forced to reckon with the choices they made to create virtually uninhabitable economy cabins, even if the reason they’re forced to reconsider them is so grave. Travellers deserve better than what the airline industry has been providing for a long time. Now we have a reason to fix it.