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Crystal Cabin Awards: The airplane interior designs of the future

<i>Courtesy Francesca Street/CNN</i><br/>The Crystal Cabin Awards winners were announced at a virtual ceremony as part of the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2021
Courtesy Francesca Street/CNN
The Crystal Cabin Awards winners were announced at a virtual ceremony as part of the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2021

Francesca Street, CNN

A touchless airplane bathroom concept and a next-generation economy seat have been named as winning designs in an annual contest highlighting airplane cabin innovations that could reshape the future of flying.

French cabin designer Safran’s hands-free bathroom design Beacon won the Clean and Safe Air Travel category in this year’s Crystal Cabin Awards, while Safran-backed seat concept Interspace took home the Judges’ Choice award.

The winners were announced at a virtual ceremony as part of the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2021, an industry event showcasing innovation in cabin design.

The awards, judged by 28 industry experts, usually recognize eight categories but limited it to two key awards for 2021 in the wake of the pandemic.

Lukas Kaestner, president of the Crystal Cabin Awards Association, told CNN Travel that choosing the winners was a “close race” and the range of nominees “show that innovation in passenger experience is still very active, even after more than one year of the pandemic.”

Next generation economy seat

The Interspace airplane seat design includes two padded wings that manually fold in and out of the seat, to allow a traveler extra privacy and offer them a place to rest their head while they attempt to get some inflight shuteye.

Interspace is the brainchild of Universal Movement, a spin-off from London-based design company New Territory. It’s partnering with airplane interiors veteran Safran to make this seat design a reality.

CNN Travel tested out an Interspace prototype when the seat premiered at the Aircraft Cabin Innovation summit back in 2019.

The wings did create added privacy, and leaning against one wing, as you would if you tried to nap, was surprisingly comfy.

The idea is that Interspace’s wings could be retrofitted to existing airplane seats, or pre-built, as in the prototype.

Designer Luke Miles, who previously spent three years working as head of design at Virgin Atlantic, told CNN Travel at the 2019 launch that Interspace’s goal was to allow economy travelers “a better night’s rest, a better flight.”

The designer said he’d noticed how airplane cabin designs usually focus on business or first class experiences and he wanted to come up with a way to make the cheap seats comfier.

Future of economy

Lukas Kaestner of the Crystal Cabin Awards said the awards body has noticed a recent trend towards creating “increased privacy” in the economy cabin.

Toyota Boshoku’s CLOUD CAPSULE concept, for example — on this years’ Judges’ Choice shortlist — imagines a dual level airplane cabin which uses the area above the economy seat as an additional space for passengers.

According to a statement from the Japanese company, the design should “make economy class travel safer, more enjoyable and more comfortable, while creating more revenue opportunities for the airlines.”

The idea is passengers could buy a regular economy seat ticket, and then, as an add-on, purchase access to CLOUD CAPSULE, which Toyota Boshoku calls “a multi-purpose room that matches the experience of a business class seat.” Travelers could retreat there once the airplane reaches cruising altitude.

The capsule could also have its own heating and cooling settings.

Perhaps one of the most eye-catching designs on the Judges’ Choice longlist was the striking Chaise Longue Economy Seat Project — a dual-level seat cabin with each row alternating between on-floor seating, and seats elevated a few feet above ground.

“The lower row has the advantage of passengers having the lounge experience of a couch by stretching the legs, whilst the upper row provides an SUV experience, making it possible for instance to cross the legs due to the increased leg room and overall living space,” designer Alejandro Núñez Vicente told CNN Travel earlier this year.

Hygienic solutions

Meanwhile, the Clean and Safe Air Travel category recognized concepts that sought to create a safer in-air environment.

As well as Safran’s winning bathroom design, notable nominees included Rosen Aviation’s Holographic Controller — a control panel for flight attendants that opts for motion sensors over buttons.

Meanwhile, Collins Aerospace submitted a sanitizing light solution for the airplane cabin called Lilac-UV, which sanitizes airplane interiors whenever a light is emitted.

In 2022, the Crystal Cabin Awards plans to return to its original eight categories, with Kaestner telling CNN Travel that he expects a focus on in-flight safety and hygiene to linger.

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