The Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg can sometimes seem like a terrifying glimpse into the future of air travel. This year’s trade fair saw Economy seats that you can barely squeeze into (hasn’t the rear of the plane suffered enough indignity?), sleeping bunks too small to easily manoeuvre in or out of (surely an evacuation nightmare and claustrophobic to boot) and robots delivering safety demonstrations. Somehow there’s nothing creepier than something with metallic arms telling you how to fasten your seatbelt.
Despite all this, the crazier ideas are, in a way, a good sign, proving that the sector is alive and well and continuing to innovate. Not everything will make it onto the market but the expo is a chance for the smartest people in the field to come together to try out ideas, both good and bad.
It offers not only a look at every bit of hardware that goes into an airliner but also at some of the emerging technologies and concepts that will define the broader onboard experience in the coming years. As such, it’s about much more than just new seats and drinks trolleys (although as you’ll see, there’s plenty of that too); it’s about everything from better onboard connectivity to quality coffee.
This year the show was dominated by that much-touted notion of “wellness”. Nearly every company seemed to have brought some kind of proposal for improving the mental and physical health of passengers inflight. Overall it’s clear that comfort is becoming king, which can only be good news for passengers. Here’s our rundown of the top 10 new releases from Hamburg that are set to improve your inflight experience.
Boeing’s latest passenger-oriented update to the 777x line will enter service as soon as 2020, bringing welcome improvements to the interior. Redesigned overhead bins fit more bags in a slimmer profile, windows are 16 per cent larger, cabin pressure is optimised and they’ve reclaimed 10cm of width from the cabin just by sculpting the walls differently.
Better Business Class seats
Best known for automotive seating, Adient is now entering the aerospace sector in partnership with Boeing and top cabin interior-design company Teague. Its Ascent lie-flat seats maximise passenger comfort while remaining space-efficient, and pairs of seats can be converted into an indulgent-looking double bed that’s ideal for holidaying couples.
Premium Economy doesn’t have a lot of options but even so, the extra-private Eclipse seats from Hong Kong outfit Haeco leave the average offering in the dust. Boasting added space and privacy, they can be installed in a typical cabin without having to reduce the number of seats. They’re also nice enough to do double duty as a short-haul Business Class option.
US firm Tapis wants to solve that feeling you get when you’re sitting there sweating until they turn the AC on. Its breathable fabric, which contains innovative micro-perforations, is part of its “Made in Japan” range of sustainable new materials for seats and cabin walls. It includes synthetic leather that is comfortable, lasts longer and is even vegan-approved.
Warmer cabin lighting
A number of firms are taking on the task of improving cabin lighting but Schott is one of our favourites. Its flexible HelioCurve LED lights can be bent and are small enough to be stuck just about anywhere, from seat pockets to aisles. Schott also offers an almost unlimited range of colour temperatures, which hopefully means no more cold white lighting.
Tools to fight jetlag
Jetlite, a new company from Germany, promises the world’s first holistic and scientifically proven solution to reduce jetlag. Its passenger app recommends sleep routines and offers customised nutrition advice, while a controller allows cabin crew to select lighting programmes that encourage healthy biorhythms according to time zone and flight length.
Inmarsat has been launching aviation-dedicated satellites at a rapid rate, with extra capacity beamed at busy flight corridors. It promises to help crew to operate everything from drinks service to flight management more efficiently, but could also benefit passengers. On top of faster onboard internet, how about clearing immigration before you’ve even landed?
No longer will sitting in the middle of the plane mean sacrificing the chance to watch the world go by. Pioneered by Collins Aerospace, artificial “windows” show a live digital stream of what’s outside and have already been added to Emirates’ new First Class suites. Call it a gimmick but we love the idea that everyone can have a window seat (of sorts).
Ultimate inflight map
Having noticed that passengers love inflight maps, Panasonic decided to build the best one yet, with its Arc Inflight Map Platform that can be personalised by airlines and passengers. It even reminds you to look out the window when you’re passing over points of interest, so never again will you miss the chance to enjoy the Matterhorn from on high.
It seems such a simple idea that it’s surprising it took so long to come to market: put an espresso machine on the drinks trolley and offer good coffee to the whole plane, without the hassle and cost of installing special machines in the galley. Swiss company SkyTender Solutions is offering just that, which means caffeine lovers everywhere can rejoice.