Design Criticism: Design Without Engineering Isn't Enough for COVID-Safe Aircraft Interior Redesign

I cannot imagine how design alone can tackle the problem of crowded airplane cabins in the age of COVID. Then again, it’s not my job to; it’s the job of design studios like the UK’s PriestmanGoode, who recently release their “Pure Skies” concept for a reimagined commercial aircraft interior. In developing it, the designers claim they’ve “taken into account new passenger behaviours driven by the global pandemic.”

While they’ve integrated some smart changes that may reduce virus transmission, the concept description contains this unencouraging statement:

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‘Pure Skies’, re-imagines Business and Economy Class cabins for a post-pandemic travel industry. Moving away from the notion of ‘class’, Pure Skies instead includes Rooms and Zones.

To me, this statement is nonsense. What used to be called “Coach” is now called “Economy.” The experience of flying either is generally poor, and I have no faith that changing the name again to “Zones” will trick passengers into thinking they’re having a better time than they are.

That piece of pointless CorpoSpeak aside, let’s look at and assess what the design team has done:

“Pure Skies Zones (previously Economy Class)”

“Dividing screens every other row for greater separation.”

Seems like Security Theater to me. I’d need to see some airflow models and hear expert testimony to feel that these paltry screens offer any significant protection from aerosol particles.

“Staggered seat configuration to maximise feeling of personal space and allow passengers to sit in the groups they are travelling in “whether alone, as a couple or in groups.”

Seat assignment–i.e. ensuring couples and singles are correctly divided by seat number according to the configurations–seems like a difficulty they’re adding to the booking process here. Additionally, would being staggered by an inch or two convey any real difference?

“Back of seat shells with no gaps to eliminate dirt traps.”

Smart, for ease of cleaning.

“Recline mechanism entirely contained within the fabric skin of the seat to avoid split lines and hard-to-clean gaps.”

Smart, for ease of cleaning.

“Removal of IFE screens in favour of passenger owned devices. This concept also presents additional commercial opportunities: straight seats without IFE screens with ability to hire a device; staggered, with more seat pitch with screen option – improved offer but increase in price.”

This change isn’t about improving the passenger experience, but increasing profit for the client.

“Removal of seat-back tray, replaced with a clip-on meal tray direct from the trolley.”

Smart, for ease of cleaning.

“Rethinking the seat back literature pocket with a new, optional removable bag for each passenger or the option to clip-on their own bag.”

Introducing a bag that you do not own but are meant to use seems like a step backwards in terms of preventing germ transmission and making things easier to clean. How time consuming would it be to disinfect the inside of a bag?”

Capitalism being what it is, the expensive seats fare a bit better:

“Pure Skies Rooms (previously Business Class)”

“Each seat is a fully enclosed personal space, partitioned by full height curtains.”

If each seat had its own air filtration, and if the passenger minimized the amount of bathroom trips they made, the air here would probably be cleaner than what’s in the cheap seats.

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“A brand-new seat design with minimal split lines and seam-welded fabrics.”

“Antimicrobial materials and finishes.”

Both of the above would be better for cleaning.

“Personal lighting and temperature control.”

“IFE system that is fully synchronised with the passengers’ own devices.”

“Personal overhead stowage.”

“Personal wardrobe.”

The four items above are just luxury trappings that don’t have to do with COVID.

“We’ve looked ahead to imagine future scenarios,” says Nigel Goode, Co-founding Director at PriestmanGoode, “and taken into account new passenger behaviours driven by the global pandemic to ensure our designs can be implemented within a few years and will meet user and airline requirements for many years ahead.”

“This is about providing flexibility,” says Luke Hawes, Priestmangoode Director, “and protecting the industry for the future, with ideas that fly.”

I think some of the smaller changes they’ve implemented, like making things easier to clean, is surely a step in the right direction. But I’m not sure any of the rest will contribute to keeping passengers safe from a still-poorly-understood virus. For that we’d need political leadership that would back scientific research, and we’d also need the all-important contributions of engineers, not just designers.

Source: core77

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