How airlines expect innovation to change the way you fly

In the hyper-competitive world of aviation, more comfort in the cabin can also be a major selling point for airlines


Commercial flying may have lost its mythical appeal from the bygone jet age — think crowded budget carriers, dour catering and the premature demise of the majestic Airbus A380 airliner — but aerospace companies are nevertheless busy trying to improve the passenger experience on board an aircraft. In the hyper-competitive world of aviation, more comfort in the cabin can also be a major selling point for airlines, and cabin amenities (or the lack thereof) are oft-discussed features on social media platforms.

At the annual Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, the biggest showcase for innovation in the cabin, hundreds of exhibitors presented new seats, fabrics, lights, in-flight entertainment systems or creative layout concepts. One big trend at this year’s show: Making better use of the data that is generated in the cabin to provide a more customised passenger experience, support flight attendants and improve maintenance of complex business-class seats or kitchen areas.

Following is a list of some of the key trends and features presented at this year’s show in Hamburg by more than 500 exhibitors.

Feel at Home

Over the decades, seat and cabin fabrics have veered from psychedelic to muted tones. The latest trend is a more homey feeling. Lantal Textiles AG, an aircraft fabric manufacturer, showcased cabin curtains with a more plush, three-dimensional weave, and Lonseal Inc presented flooring that mimics the grainy details of real wood for a more soothing atmosphere in the cabin space.

Mood lighting continues to be a major force of cabin innovation, but the new generation of LED lights also lets airlines considerably cut weight. Collins Aerospace introduced a reading lamp that can adapt to different applications, from large spot to small target, with full-colour options, eliminating the need for additional elements such as sidewall lighting.

Get Comfortable (Even in Economy)

Flat-bed seats in business and first class have been a feature for more than a decade, but the humble economy seat has remained largely built for purpose: Slender, lightweight, limited comfort. Recaro Holding GmbH presented a redesign of its CL3710 back-of-the-cabin seat built especially for long-distance routes, which features additional sleeping aids such as wrap-around head support and a retractable ledge to extend the seat and provide more thigh support. Feeling too hot or cold in the cabin? Lantal is working on a temperature-control system that lets the occupant heat or cool their seat.

Airbus bench seating

Airbus bench seating

At the more luxurious spectrum of the cabin, Airbus is experimenting with a new seat layout that it calls the settee corner, combining a single-person seat with a bench design that can be used for meetings during flight or to spread out for a nap.

A Recaro economy-class seat with additional wrap-around head support

Scent and Sensibility

Feeling nauseous because there’s a stale smell wafting through the cabin? Panasonic Avionics Corp is bringing an air-deodorising system to the cabin that purifies the area around a (business) passenger’s seat, using nano-sized electrostatic atomised particles to neutralise air and battle viruses and bacteria. At the Hamburg show, engineers showcased the technology using a piece of cloth infused with the dubious odour of stale French fries. After about a minute of bursts from the nano-particle stream, the smell was of clean sheets.

Over at Fokker Technologies, engineers are working on infusing the cabin with distinct fragrances, and the company is collaborating with cosmetics brand Rituals on a product that distributes scents through the air-conditioning system, promising greater passenger comfort or the ability to create signature airline scents for better brand recognition.

Mapping it Out

While in-flight entertainment has come a long way since movies were projected onto a screen with the resolution of a bath mat, there’s still a long road ahead to turn the media offerings into a dedicated, personal experience for each passenger. In-flight maps remain one of the most popular features in the cabin, but the experience lags the immersive features that have become prevalent on personal mobile devices. Panasonic has created a map that uses personal travel information from a passenger’s loyalty-programme profile and integrates it with in-flight entertainment features and details of the surroundings as well as the destination. Coming to airlines next year, the map also allows passengers to use FlightAware data that follows flight paths of other aircraft.

Smart Bins

Few things are more tedious than standing at the luggage carousel after a long journey, which is why more people try to cram their suitcases into the overhead compartments. Airbus SE and Boeing Co have both been working on bigger bins, and Boeing showcased the new layout of its 777X wide-body aircraft.

Airbus also wants to make the bins smarter, using sensors that track if a locker is in use as well as the weight of the loaded luggage, providing vital data to the airline about occupancy rates. At some point in the future, Airbus wants to give passengers the option to book their own bin space, helping overcome bruising battles in the cabin between passengers for storage space. — Bloomberg