Can this airplane seat keep you safe from Covid-19?
Francesca Street, CNN
(CNN) — As conversations continue about if, when and how it’s safe to be flying, airplane seat designers continue to sketch out concepts for what the future of aviation might look like.
The latest off the drawing board is Interspace Lite, presented by Luke Miles, founder of transportation technology company Universal Movement.
Back in December 2019, Miles premiered a new seat design dubbed Interspace, designed to make sleeping in economy a little easier thanks to “padded wings” that fold out from behind both sides of the seat back. CNN Travel tested out the product at its London launch.
Interspace Lite reworks this design in response to Covid-19. Miles reckons it’ll provide an active solution to on board social distancing.
Like other recent pandemic-inspired airplane seat designs, Interspace Lite involves adding kit to the airplane middle seat. It leans on the idea that airlines will temporarily block out middle seats in order to better enable distancing, but won’t want to permanently change the cabin interior.
What makes this concept stand out, says Miles, is that the divider that separates the window and aisle seat isn’t a clear screen, which will make travelers feel more comfortable.
“We don’t want it to look, in any way, medicinal, I suppose,” the designer tells CNN Travel. “We don’t want remind people of where they are, we just want them to feel more comfortable.”
Ideally, the divider would be made of the same material as the upholstery that’s on the airplane seat, although part of the appeal is that the seats are retrofittable.
Miles has also envisaged a way in which the two passengers on either side of the divider can make use of the middle seat.
“When you taxi, takeoff or land you have the armrest down, but you can put the armrest up when in flight, and so essentially you get what we’ve kind of coined as a 1.5 economy seat,” he says.
This extra space could work out as a place to store belongings or just give you a bit of space to play with during the flight.
Miles hopes the aesthetic and the features will make people feel more comfortable flying again.
In fact, if Miles and his team get their way, you could be on a plane with some variation of Interspace Lite before the summer is over: Universal Movement has officially partnered with airplane seat manufacturer Safran and aims to bring Interspace to market ASAP.
“There’s a lot of effort going into making Interspace Lite operable by late summer,” he says.
Quentin Munier, Safran’s executive vice president for strategy and innovation, adds that his company is working on several other concepts that will help make flying in the wake of Covid-19 safe and secure.
He gives the example of touchless travel, such as activating your food tray table with a pedal, rather than with your hands.
The company is also developing kit called Ringfence, which is a removable partition that could be placed around each traveler’s seat.
Future of the middle seat?
Other new airline interior concepts that have premiered over the past few months include Aviointeriors’ idea of a row of three economy seats with the middle seat facing the opposite way and French engineer Florian Barjot’s concept, PlanBay, which also includes a removable piece of kit that could be placed on the middle seat.
Although many of these designs involve reimagining the airplane middle seat, 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 it supported.
“Airlines are fighting for their survival. Eliminating the middle seat will raise costs,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said in the statement. “If that can be offset that with higher fares, the era of affordable travel will come to an end. On the other hand, if airlines can’t recoup the costs in higher fares, airlines will go bust. Neither is a good option when the world will need strong connectivity to help kick-start the recovery from COVID-19’s economic devastation.”
But Munier reckons Interspace Lite is viable, and suggests carriers agree. He won’t give names, but he says airlines were in touch with Universal Movement following the launch of the original Interspace seat back in December and discussions remain ongoing.
“Time is of the essence,” he says. “We have identified the right technology, the right resources and ways to achieve it.”
“We want to get people flying again and we want people to fly feeling comfortable. The industry has been knocked,” adds Miles.