These airplane cabin designs could be the future of flying


(CNN) — From an airplane concept with an “underwater” twist to an AI-based food scanner that moderates passengers’ eating habits, the shortlist for the 2022 Crystal Cabin Awards highlights eye-catching ideas that could be the future of aviation.

The shortlisted concepts are spread across eight categories, from innovative cabin designs that reimagine the passenger experience, to eco-focused concepts that could help the aviation industry operate more sustainably.

Angus Baigent, marketing and PR manager for Hamburg Aviation, an air industry conglomerate that organizes the awards, told CNN Travel that the Crystal Cabin judges look for concepts that aren’t just visually striking, but also offer something fundamentally different for airlines and passengers alike.

Futuristic airplane cabins

AirSleeper is a double-decker airplane cabin concept.

AirSleeper is a double-decker airplane cabin concept.


Next generation cabin designs on this year’s shortlist include double-decker concept AirSleeper from engineering design company MMILLENNIUMM.

MMILLENNIUMM CEO Indi Rajasingham suggests that’s the goal of AirSleeper too — the seat would offer travelers on both levels the potential for a lie-flat bed, as well as space for working or lounging.

AirSleeper has been in the works since 2010.

“We are pleased that the future we predicted and pioneered a decade ago is starting to gain traction as these concepts gain public recognition,” Rajasingham told CNN Travel.

Another innovative cabin design on this year’s shortlist is the Explorer concept by Lufthansa Technik, an offshoot of Germany’s national airline. Explorer is a private jet with an internal projector system that allows the cabin ceiling and some of its walls to be covered with incredible projections, including underwater scenes.
AirSleeper and Explorer are still in the design stages, but other Crystal Cabin nominees, such as Collins Aerospace’s non-reclining business class seat Airlounge, are further along. Airlounge, the brainchild of design agency PriestmanGoode, is being produced with Finnish airline Finnair and design agency Tangerine, and aims to create a cocoon-like private space for travelers.

Airlounge is a business class seat that doesn't recline.

Airlounge is a business class seat that doesn’t recline.

Courtesy Collins Aerospace, Finnair, PriestmanGoode, Tangerine

Another nominee, Virgin Atlantic’s The Booth — designed by the UK-based airline in cooperation with the Factorydesign agency, and produced by cabin interior company AIM Altitude — premiered at the end of last year. Now implemented on one of Virgin Atlantic’s A350 aircraft in its Upper Class cabins, The Booth is a lounge-style couch seat for two, surrounded by touchscreens and complemented by a table.

The shortlist doesn’t only include the established names in aviation — one of the Crystal Cabin award categories is specifically focused on submissions from universities. Nominees in this category for 2022 include Reutlingen University student Jiayi Yu’s swiveling airplane seat design, called the Shift Cabin Interior, and Ken Kirtland’s design for an electric short-haul airline service, called Portal.

Hamburg Aviation’s Baigent noted it’s interesting to see how university students approach the airplane cabin.

“People who are working in academic context […] their approach to some of these problems, or some of these design issues, are going to be very different,” said Baigent.

Pandemic legacy

The Booth is a new cabin concept premiering on Virgin Atlantic.

The Booth is a new cabin concept premiering on Virgin Atlantic.

Courtesy Virgin Atlantic, Factorydesign, AIM Altitude

The enduring legacy of the pandemic is also reflected in some of the nominees, including the swish Switch seat, from Style and Design, which imagines a premium economy cabin with fewer passengers spread across armchair-like seats.

Nominees in the Clean Cabin category — a new entry for 2021 that’s stuck around for this year too — include Pexco Aerospace’s AirShield device, produced in collaboration with design company Teague, which is designed to enhance airplane air flow, creating an invisible “shield” around passengers.

Teague is also nominated for the Elevate cabin design, which visualizes a premium cabin filled with “floating” seats. Rather than being attached to the floor, Elevate’s cabin furniture would be connected to the sidewall and aisle. Teague, nominated for this design in collaboration with aerospace manufacturer NORDAM, suggested in a statement that its Elevate concept could increase space for plane passengers.

Teague's Elevate cabin concept imagines "floating" seats.

Teague’s Elevate cabin concept imagines “floating” seats.

Courtesy Teague, NORDAM

Other nominees focus on making the airplane cabin more sustainable, with airplane seat cushion manufacturer Metzo, in cooperation with manufacturing company The Vita Group, nominated for their proposed recycling system for old airplane cushions.

Biometric and AI technology also features in some of the shortlisted designs. Airbus Operations’ AI-based Airspace Food Scanner is designed to capture data about passengers’ onboard food consumption, allowing airlines to cater accordingly.

Meanwhile, tech company Gentex Corporation is proposing a camera-based iris biometric scanning system that could be implemented in the airplane seatback, while ACM Aircraft Cabin Modification’s MYZONE embeds noise-canceling technology into airplane seat headrests.

Looking to the future

Baigent said the shortlist shows “the scope of the near future” of airplane interior design and “the far future.”

The range of concepts on offer suggest an ever-changing aviation landscape, he added.

“When you’re looking back 20 years or 30 years to 2022, it’s going to be a very different experience to now, but I think you can really see the direction things are going with some of these designs,” said Baigent.

The Crystal Cabin finalists are expected to be announced at the end of May and the winners, selected by a jury of 28 aviation experts, will be crowned at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany in June.

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