Ideas for space-saving arm rests on flights
Credit: Courtesy of ACLA

Every year, the Crystal Cabin Awards recognize the best aircraft cabin innovations from aviation industry manufacturers, independent designers, and university students.

The judges have now published their short-list of candidates for the coveted window-frame trophies. This year’s shortlist is long, including 91 concepts submitted by candidates from 18 countries around the world.

While submissions include cabin products that already flying or soon to be introduced—including revolutionary premium cabin seating designs revealed last year—we wanted to take a closer look at some of the proposals that could make flying in the cheap seats better.

Here are our picks of Crystal Cabin innovations which could make Economy class more passenger-friendly:

Noise canceling headrest for flights
Credit: Courtesy of HAECO Cabin Solutions

1) Introducing the perfect marriage of headrests and headphones:

Tired of having to lug around a good pair of noise cancelling headsets and a supportive pillow so that you can sleep better on the plane?

HAECO Cabin Solutions, North Carolina, has proposed a new headrest design called ‘Wave’ which bends 180º around the head for better support and includes noise-cancelling features. Ian Raulston, HAECO Americas Marketing Manger explains, “The Wave incorporates active noise canceling technology and noise dampening materials to provide passengers with the ultimate integrated personal comfort zone.”

Wave headrests can be installed on existing seats, so airlines can use them to upgrade their economy cabins with little hassle and reduced costs.

In-flight virtual reality headrests partnership with Airbus
Credit: Courtesy of Airbus BizLab

2) There are all kinds of digital distraction.

There’s a good likelihood that Economy seats are going to stay narrow and tight, but airlines are banking on in-flight entertainment to help passengers escape reality.

3D entertainment, no glasses required

The United Screens Group in Hamburg has proposed new in-flight entertainment monitors which can play 3D images without requiring passengers to wear special glasses.

“[The system] combines the advantages of eye tracking, lenticular lens optics and proprietary software to incorporate natural head movement. Users can switch from full-resolution 2D to captivating, autostereoscopic full 3D display,” the company explains in its proposal. “Pop-out and depth effects emerge from the screen in unparalleled brightness and sharpness, without the alignment and distortion issues that had been associated with glasses-free 3D until now.”

A Virtual Reality excursion

We’ve already seen Virtual Reality headsets debut in premium cabins, offering immersive programs, but these have been limited mainly because the hardware is expensive. Inflight VR partnered with Airbus’ BizLab Acceleration Program focused on software, which could be installed on smartphones compatible with less expensive VR headsets in the market offering different VR applications including 3D films and destination tours but also a virtual mall for in-flight shopping, and special relaxation programs for those who have a fear of flying.

Airbus and In-flight VR have already conducted in-flight tests of the system with more than 50 airlines, so this service might be available soon.

An Augmented Reality concierge in every seat

Students and faculty at the University of Cincinnati have collaborated with the Live Well Collaborative to develop an augmented reality Virtual Assistant that relies on special AR glasses and follows hand-movement commands.

The “Boeing Onboard” concierge service glasses could be given out to passengers by the airline. This new AR service would extend the scope of in-flight entertainment by making it more interactive and useful. “Boeing Onboard” could give passengers travel information, let them browse the web and enjoy programs, even offer augmented reality safety demonstrations. So you could one day figure out how to buckle your seat belt without a flight attendant, but you might miss the funny safety videos.

3) Elbow-placement could be less awkward.

We’ve seen a number of proposals to resolve who gets to use the armrest over the years, and these two latest appeal.

The ACLA Aerofoam Armrest solves personal space intrusion by offering a cupped-armrest for the middle seat that leaves room for two.

Amtree, created by designer Nigel McMillan, New Zealand, offers an “Z-Shaped” armrest which gives each passenger a joint-curve all their own.

4) There are many ways to solve the bathroom problem.

Introducing new lavatory islands.

Current aircraft lavatories are designed to fit the toilet and sink in a single cabinet but Tokyo-based Jamco takes its inspiration from more efficient public bathrooms on the ground and proposes “Lav-Com” lavatory islands installed at the back of wide-body aircraft. They would house multiple closed toilet areas in a row. Passengers would find separate mirror stations for grooming and a large central sink outside.

The aircraft furnishings manufacturer argues that designing lavatories this way would lessen wait-times for passengers needing to use the toilet and would also concentrate the queue away from cabin service areas, which means no conflict between flight attendants delivering meals and people waiting in the aisle to use the bathroom.

Jamco has also designed these to be beautiful, with variable decorative finishes.

Or..airlines could install urinals.

Zodiac Aerospace has an alternate solution to reducing wait times for aircraft lavatories: the new “Durinal” kit.

“Lavatories are continually improving, but still present two major irritations for passengers: the ever-present wet floor in the male ‘splash zone’ and the inevitable queue for the toilet after meals and before arrival. Durinal’s innovative configuration, replacing one regular 60”x30” lavatory with two Urinals in the heart of high-density Economy Class, tackles both problems head on,” Zodiac Aerospace explains. “Lavatory cycle time can be dramatically improved whilst reducing the male usage of the remaining conventional toilets, thus leaving them more hygienic for the ladies.”

Or..airlines could offer always-dry floors.

Boeing’s latest solution to the problem of messy cabin lavatories is a proposal for special floors with grids that would keep them always dry. Not only does this benefit passengers but it also means less work for cabin crew who are stuck with cleaning-up passenger mess in-flight.

“The Boeing Clean Cabin Dry Floor replaces the existing lavatory floor pan. Utilizing existing aircraft infrastructure, this new innovation gathers all liquids on its surface into a central location and evacuates its contents after each use making wet floors a thing of the past,” the airplane manufacturer explains. “The Boeing Clean Cabin Dry Floor is capable of processing a variety of unpleasant messes left to unsuspecting passengers by simply adding water.”

Speaking of hygiene, sink faucets could get an upgrade.

Diehl, Germany, proposes a Multifunctional Touchless Faucet (MTF) which would dispense water with touchless temperature adjustments, as well as dispensing soap and hand disinfectant. “[It offers] a more convenient, efficient and ergonomic single point system,” Diehl explains. “Point of use disinfection and water saving functions add sustainability to the eye-catching design.”

Rockwell plane cabin divider
Credit: Courtesy of Rockwell

5) Cabin dividers could give us more legroom.

The new Silhouette MOVE cabin divider, designed by Rockwell Collins in Winston Salem, NC, is curved, leaving more room for passengers—up to one extra cubic foot of space for your feet.

“Silhouette MOVE is a revolutionary cabin divider taking advantage of the unused space between the divider and the seat in front of it,” Rockwell Collins Director of Design, Glenn Johnson, explains. “The raised bottom of the divider opens up the floor and under-seat area giving passengers more space to stretch their legs or place carry-on items.”

6) Flying gets better for baby.

Airlines supply specially designed infant bassinets that can be fastened to the aircraft’s divider walls, if parents book these in advance, but nothing is as comfortable for infants than their own carriers. Heinkel engineering in Hamburg has developed a new SkyLeaf bracket which would securely fasten ordinary baby carriers to cabin walls.

New ideas for in-flight food service
Credit: Courtesy of Muthesius

7) Introducing “holistic food service”.

Philip Emmert of the Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, has a future proposal to re-design Economy meal service including pre-orders, service on-demand, and re-fillable personal water bottles.

“Passengers can configure their in-flight meals right after checking in online. At the airport, after the security check, they get their personal travel bottle which they can refill on board the plane at one of the service units there,” Emmert explains. “During the flight, they can heat their meal by simply pressing a button in order to decide on their own accord when they want to have their meal. At the destination airport, passengers can refill their travel bottle once again and use it over and beyond the on-board service all the way to their final destination.”

The 2018 awards will be given out during the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg this April.