Confidence is a key hurdle in getting travelers back into the skies, particularly in economy and premium economy where people are a lot closer than the whole 2 meter, 6 food guidelines. There’s just one big thing: airlines are hemorrhaging money at the moment, which makes spending millions on brand new seating concepts entirely impossible, even if we’d really like them to.

Yep, the bad news is that many of the designs you’ve likely seen in recent weeks likely won’t be flying anytime soon, but a happy medium at a much lower price point may exist, with solutions to add privacy between seat mates.

Safran, a leading French airline seat designer has a new line of products in partnership with Universal Movement called ‘Travel Safe’, a line of accessories airlines can buy for preexisting seating setups which transform things like recline, and privacy. The most attractive option for many passengers will undoubtedly be the screens which can be placed in between each economy seat.

Crucially for airlines, these solutions don’t involve removing or blocking seats, and are arguably something many economy passengers would’ve loved to have for years already, pandemic or no pandemic. No one likes a chatty seat mate, do they?  In the near term, middle seats may be blocked as a courtesy while passenger loads are low, but it’s impossible for airlines to exist in the long term with this sort of restriction.

Even with a screen between you and the person next to you, that still leaves the uneasiness about cleanliness. Another interesting initiative with the ‘Travel Safe’ line is creating solutions which reduce the number of seat features you must actually touch, by retrofitting current seats with new bells and whistles. Think: a foot lever to recline your seat, line opening a trash can.

Other features include middle seat buffers, which create additional storage and privacy when middle seats won’t be in use. Much like “business class” setups in Europe, these could be moved or removed on a flight by flight basis, which creates unique potential. Talk of creating new antimicrobial surfaces for trays and arm rests is also in the works.

As travel rebounds over the next few months, it’ll be interesting to see if airlines bite on these solutions, or whether they think it’s all a waste, because ultimately the world will return to the way it was before, whether it should or should not. These solutions from Safran will hit the market this summer, so only time will tell.

Unlike completely bespoke seating concepts which, at least for the interim may be as likely to take flight as pigs, there’s real potential here for solutions which add safety and confidence, without a killer price tag.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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6 Comments

  1. Yes, I like the idea of having more social distancing with these new concepts. But far more important..the passengers itself. First, we should be honest over our health. If am sick, I stay at home and contact the local health authorities for assistance. Second, strictly imply health measures like wearing masks especially when distancing cannot be applied or interacting with others, washing or sanitising your hands and your equipments as often as possible. Third, be considerate to one another, we are all victims of the virus and we need to have all our acts come together. Do not forget everyone is vulnerable and some gestures of symphaty and helpfulness are all what it takes to travel together safely and as normal as possible.

  2. Good concepts but sadly the likes of BA/ IAG who aren’t even willing to pay for delivering the advertised catering or effective cabin cleaning there isn’t much chance they will spend on this sort of sensible precaution. There is no profit in it for the board and only the customer benefits so clearly based on their actions to date, they won’t invest.

  3. Aside from the obvious of enforcing mask requirements in the near term (although how to do this on a long haul flight, when food and beverages are necessary?), I think the best thing the airlines, and aircraft manufacturers, could do is invest in upgraded air filtration and uv systems. Increasing the rate of air circulation and the efficacy of the filtration would do far more than some plastic shields.

  4. I have to agree that the cost of some of these solutions would not be something the airlines would take (think IAG, pizza slice handed to you in FIRST, blows my mind that handing a tray is any safer?). The cost may be severe to be fair, to attached a fixing to the middle seat would lead to the evacuation protocols on the aircraft having to be re tested. No matter how small the shield it would change how people move in the event of an evacuation. If airlines decided a uniform approach the type (777, 350) could go through testing and the cost could potentially be shared. However, if it breaks the 90 second rule (and I do believe it’s fairly close already) then they are back to square one. I do think masks are the only real way to hinder the spread of the virus.

  5. I have to agree that the cost of some of these solutions would not be something the airlines would take (think IAG, pizza slice handed to you in FIRST, blows my mind that handing a tray is any less safe ?). The cost may be severe to be fair, to attached a fixing to the middle seat would lead to the evacuation protocols on the aircraft having to be re tested. No matter how small the shield it would change how people move in the event of an evacuation. If airlines decided a uniform approach the type (777, 350) could go through testing and the cost could potentially be shared. However, if it breaks the 90 second rule (and I do believe it’s fairly close already) then they are back to square one. I do think masks are the only real way to hinder the spread of the virus.

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