12 plane cabins of the future – from the weird to the wonderful

Annabel Fenwick Elliott
Judges for the prestigious 2020 Crystal Cabin Awards have released this year's shortlist - virgin atlantic

Buckle up, this is what your flights might look like some day. Judges for the prestigious 2020 Crystal Cabin Awards have released this year’s shortlist; 105 in total, whittled down from thousands of submissions from 21 countries around the world.

This list highlights the most innovative and futuristic aircraft cabin designs across eight different categories (winners to be announced).

It features both wacky concepts like the one below, and new cabin layouts that exist already – among them Virgin Atlantic’s “The Loft” (above) which features mood lighting in the entry area as passengers board, and transforms into a lounge and bar for premium class guests during the flight.

Here are some of the weirdest and most promising stand-out designs.

Knee to knee: not for introverts Credit: Heinkel

Hamburg-based Heinkel has devised the above mechanism for rotating aircraft seats to create a “Flex Lounge” with four passengers facing each other. We’re not sure how we feel about this. It’s not unlike the sort of configuration you find on trains – but without the table, and don’t you need one of those, for its function as a personal space blockade? You seldom have an office meeting without a table. Or a family gathering. Perhaps an AA meeting...

All Nippon Airways: lovely and wide Credit: acumen

Acumen has made the shortlist with “The Room”, a luxurious business class cabin for All Nippon Airways combining modern Japanese style with features such as (above) the widest seat in its class so far. Telegraph Travel’s Lizzie Frainier has reviewed it in depth.

For the spooners Credit: adient

Design firm Adient’s concept adds a retraction mechanism to the seating row behind the partition separating business class from economy, creating a large single surface for parents and children to lie down together. Your thoughts? We want to hear from you in the comments box at the end.

Is it a room? No it's a plane cabin Credit: Dubai Aviation Engineering Projects

This entry from Dubai Aviation Engineering Projects would enable very swanky airlines to reconfigure the cabin on a flight-by-flight basis. Its “Retractable Aircraft Cabin” will allow rooms, restaurants and spas to be installed into the aircraft during ground handling, and is unlikely to be cheap.

For spontaneous boardroom meetings?

Students at the University of Cincinnati envision a cabin with seats capable of swivelling into the above formation, arranged around a long table. Do we need more office situations in our lives? 

Flat beds, economy style Credit: tu delft

Variations on this bunk-style cabin design appear on the list every year, and it’s a prospect that divides opinion. Claustrophic, or a genius space-saver that brings the lie-down perks to economy class? The company, TuDelft states: “The goal of the Flying-V interior concept is to improve passenger experience, and at lower weight, but importantly, with similar or higher passenger density. This means that the capacity is still comparable to a current Airbus A350.”

An airborne room with a view Credit: earthbay

The EarthBay is designed to fit to the existing interfaces on the fuselage side of a plane, in the cargo deck; the opening and locking functions of the cargo door replaced with large windows. 

That's a lot of Dr Evil chairs Credit: airbus

Flexible cabin configuration is on the agenda at Airbus, too. The aircraft manufacturer’s “Cabin Vision 2030” equips the space with more flexible seating and sleeping configurations, along with exchangeable modules.

Hilarious, apparently Credit: collins

Collins has developed a folding bed, the “Zero-G Attendant Seat”, so that crew members can better relax in the entry area – because staff deserve a break too.

Partly clear walls between economy and business class Credit: aerq

AERQ, a joint venture between LG and Lufthansa Technik, wants to make the partitions between classes almost invisible. Instead of walls, transparent screens will display information for the passengers in the back.

This certainly seems to make sense Credit: crawford

The “Row 1 Aircraft Wheelchair” from Ciara Crawford slides above the front seat, saving passengers with walking difficulties from getting out of the wheelchair between the gate and the cabin.

Eco-friendly meals are on the menu Credit: priestman goode

Other, smaller innovations include PriestmanGoode’s “ZERO Economy Meal Tray”, whereby meals can be served in edible, biodegradable or recyclable materials rather than plastic. Very promising.

The Uber of the future? Credit: safran

In a first for these awards, they received a cabin concept submission for a VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft. Safran, in collaboration with Uber, has entered a four-seat layout for eight-minute city flights in electric taxi drones.

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