Plane concepts from Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg that will soon become standard on flights

  • Airlines or manufacturers are working on a number of exciting concepts to make air travel a far better experience
  • One award-winning concept is a radical new cabin that has beds on an upper deck and self-serve cafes or lounges
  • Passengers can also expect to see self-cleaning loos, ultra-thin seats, larger screens and headsets that play films

Flying can be a grim experience for those who are stuck in an uncomfortable seat in cattle class, but airlines and manufacturers are working on a number of exciting concepts to make air travel a far better experience.

Even though carriers are still trying to find ways to cram more people on board, they are improving perks, amenities and cleanliness with private suites for those who can afford them, self-cleaning toilets, large screens that are like tablet computers, and lighting or noise-cancelling systems that help to beat jet lag.

From beds in a plane's upper deck to crumbless croissants for breakfast, these are some of the revolutionary ideas that are set to transform air travel in the not-so-distant future.

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Double-decker cabins and elevated seats

This premium cabin seating concept from Atlanta-based Formation Design includes several 'super throne' seats as individual suites

This premium cabin seating concept from Atlanta-based Formation Design includes several 'super throne' seats as individual suites

Zodiac Aerospace's visionary Lifestyle cabin concept won a Crystal Cabin Award at this month's Aircraft Exteriors Expo in Germany

Zodiac Aerospace's visionary Lifestyle cabin concept won a Crystal Cabin Award at this month's Aircraft Exteriors Expo in Germany

In a Lifestyle cabin, passengers who are heading abroad on a long-haul flight could pay extra to reserve a bed on the upper deck

In a Lifestyle cabin, passengers who are heading abroad on a long-haul flight could pay extra to reserve a bed on the upper deck

In a patent filing, Airbus submitted this drawing which shows a mezzanine-style seating plan designed for a premium cabin

In a patent filing, Airbus submitted this drawing which shows a mezzanine-style seating plan designed for a premium cabin

Airlines and designers are always looking at ways to utilise empty or unused spaces to get more seats on board, and that could lead to split-level seating or new versions of double-decker planes.

At this month's Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany, the French firm Zodiac Aerospace walked away with a Crystal Cabin Award (the Oscars of cabin interiors) for its visionary Lifestyle concept, which was designed in collaboration with London firm Territory.

Inspired by cruise ships, the radical concept moves away from a hierarchical system involving classes and instead puts passengers in the same cabin - without reducing the number of seats - with fee-based options to customise and tailor the services they want.

Passengers could reserve a bed in an upper or lower deck, retreat to a work station or socialise at a self-serve cafe or lounge, giving them a chance to get out of their seats and stretch their legs while grabbing a drink or snack.

Another concept, from Atlanta-based Formation Design, elevates passengers in so-called 'super throne' seats which are enclosed and slightly higher than traditional seats at floor level.

In those seats, passengers would nap partially above fellow travellers.

European aeroplane manufacturer Airbus, meanwhile, submitted a patent filing for a radical new split-level seating design for a premium cabin such as business class.

Rows in the middle section would alternate between floor level and an elevated level, with every seat reclining into a sleeping position.

Private suites

London-based Seymourpowell has designed a boutique hotel-inspired first class cabin, called First Spaces, which offers privacy

London-based Seymourpowell has designed a boutique hotel-inspired first class cabin, called First Spaces, which offers privacy

The high-end cabin would feature six fully-enclosed rooms, each with a retractable door and armchair or couch that folds into a bed

The high-end cabin would feature six fully-enclosed rooms, each with a retractable door and armchair or couch that folds into a bed

Private suites would also come with a 42in in-flight entertainment screen that would be the largest on a plane and smart technology

Private suites would also come with a 42in in-flight entertainment screen that would be the largest on a plane and smart technology

For those who can afford it, first and business class is about to get a whole lot sweeter.

With well-to-do passengers craving more privacy and tailored experiences, airlines and manufacturers are looking to cater to them with private suites that allow them to have very little interaction with other travellers or cabin crew if they choose to hibernate on a long-haul flight.

After surveying first class passengers about their wants and needs, London-based Seymourpowell has designed a boutique hotel-inspired first class cabin, called First Spaces. 

The high-end cabin would feature six private rooms (single or double occupancy) that each come with a retractable door, armchair or couch that folds into a bed, 42in TV screen that would be the largest on a plane, and a 'smart in-flight service system' designed to anticipate passengers' needs.  

Self-cleaning lavatories and cabins

Boeing has developed a self-cleaning lavatory that it says kills 99.9 per cent of bacteria by using ultra violet (UV) lights

Boeing has developed a self-cleaning lavatory that it says kills 99.9 per cent of bacteria by using ultra violet (UV) lights

With so many people in a confined space, it's not unheard of for travellers to complain about catching a cold or another illness after stepping off a plane.

Tray tables and other surfaces can be crawling with harmful bacteria, but manufacturers are set to introduce technology that automatically kills germs that aren't wiped out by cleaning crew when a plane has to be turned around quickly for its next flight. 

Boeing has developed a self-cleaning lavatory that it says kills 99.9 per cent of bacteria by using ultra violet (UV) lights.

The self-cleaning mode is activated when someone exits the lavatory and it sanitises all surfaces in just three seconds. It even lifts and lowers the toilet seat. It too has earned a Crystal Cabin Award.

MAG Aerospace Industries, meanwhile, has filed a patent for a system that would eliminate bacteria on surfaces inside passenger cabins using ultraviolet organic LED disinfection lights.

The system would be used when no passengers or crew are present inside the cabin.

Airbus' new A330neo aircraft will have lavatories with smart technology, including anti-bacterial surfaces, self-flushing toilets and soothing sounds. 

In-flight screens that are like giant iPads

Thales has created a new in-flight entertainment system with largest digital seatback surface ever - a 22in or 26in HD touchscreen surface

Thales has created a new in-flight entertainment system with largest digital seatback surface ever - a 22in or 26in HD touchscreen surface

Using the large screen passengers can watch a film or programme, track a flight’s progress, browse duty-free goods or play a game

Using the large screen passengers can watch a film or programme, track a flight’s progress, browse duty-free goods or play a game

With most things, bigger is better. That certainly is the case for in-flight entertainment screens.

While there have been slight increases in screen sizes in economy, a company is pushing the boundaries with a new digital screen that is like a giant tablet computer in the back of a seat.

Thales, in collaboration with B/E Aerospace, has a new in-flight system for economy and premium economy, featuring a slim seat and the largest digital seatback surface ever.

The a 22in or 26in HD touchscreen surface has a split-screen options, allowing passengers to watch a film or programme while also tracking the flight’s progress, browsing duty-free goods or playing a game.

'Last class' in economy 

In 'last class', or budget economy, passengers will find that they have less space compared to passengers in normal economy (file photo)

In 'last class', or budget economy, passengers will find that they have less space compared to passengers in normal economy (file photo)

Depending on the airline or aircraft, air travel in economy can be a soul-destroying experience with little or no perks at all.

Premium economy, where passengers are treated to a bit more legroom and better meal options, has become a standard, but many travellers may not be aware of the lowest class in economy.

In a four- or five-cabin configuration, 'last class', or budget economy (behind first, business, premium and economy classes), offers the worst and cheapest seats.

They are closer together and the services available, fees and flexibility are likely to be much worse.

Phil Derner, Jr., founder of the global industry news site NYCAviation, previously told MailOnline: ‘Last class exists because the airlines are a business.

‘The airlines that really need to meet their bottom line in a big way are going to push the limits of what they can get away with, and those particular airlines do so because their passengers allow it by patronising them’.  

A new way to entertain yourself 

Called Skylights Theater, the portable headsets offer an immersive 2D/3D experience for passengers as they watch a film

Called Skylights Theater, the portable headsets offer an immersive 2D/3D experience for passengers as they watch a film

Films or TV programmes are displayed on a wide-angle, high-definition screen that no one but the passenger can see

Films or TV programmes are displayed on a wide-angle, high-definition screen that no one but the passenger can see

With some long-haul flights now exceeding 17 hours, films and interactive games on a small seatback screen no longer cut it when it comes to in-flight entertainment.

Passengers may soon wear 3D or virtual reality headsets to watch new releases or TV programmes.

A French start-up is trialling a headset called Skylights Theater, which offers an immersive 2D/3D cinema experience on a wide-angle, high-definition screen that no one but the wearer can see.

At the Aircraft Interiors Expo, attendees were able to test a number of virtual reality headsets that allow them to watch films or put them in a serene scene such as a tropical beach while listening to music.

The crumbless croissant

LSG Sky Chefs has developed a croissant that does not produce as many crumbs when it is eaten (the actual product is not pictured)

LSG Sky Chefs has developed a croissant that does not produce as many crumbs when it is eaten (the actual product is not pictured)

One of the last things any passenger wants is a messy meal or snack when they in a row with three or five seats.

Errant crumbs from bread or other menu items can be a pain for passengers and the workers tasked with cleaning planes.

Enter Germany-based caterer LSG Sky Chefs, which has developed a croissant that does not produce as many crumbs when it is eaten.

A spokesman said: 'The advantage for airlines is it provides less to be cleaned up after it is consumed. Our chefs have developed a recipe that achieves this goal while preserving the taste that makes croissants so popular.' 

The spokesman said crumbless, or almost crumbless, croissants can be produced by influencing elements of the production process, including temperature, time and duration of rotation, and taking into account whether the pastry is reheated on board or served as delivered.  

A hammock for your head 

A Dutch student's HeadRest concept has two retractable wings that form a hammock which cradles the passenger’s head

A Dutch student's HeadRest concept has two retractable wings that form a hammock which cradles the passenger’s head

Of all the places to try and catch a few winks, economy class aeroplane seats are among the worst. 

Dutch student Manon Kuhne, from Technical University Delft, is hoping to change that with her HeadRest concept, which was designed in collaboration with Zodiac Aerospace and has won a Crystal Cabin Award.

The headrest attaches to a seat and has retractable wings that form a hammock which cradles the passenger’s head to prevent sliding and nodding. 

Seats that smell like coffee or lime 

Being placed in a row with a seatmate who has bad body odour can ruin a trip, but Zodiac Aerospace is reportedly working on a seat that emits pleasant smells.

Its Cirrus business class seat releases odours, including coffee, lemon, lime and sleep-inducing lavender, the Sunday Times reported.

Meanwhile, German manufacturer Recaro Aircraft Seating is developing a wellness suite for a premium cabin.

Mark Hiller, the company's chief executive, told the Sunday Times that the seat is designed to 'make you feel better when you get off than when you got on', with lighting to curb the effects of jet lag, an orthopaedic mattress and transmitters that create a noise-cancelling 'bubble' within the suite when the seat is converted to a fully-flat bed.

Economy seats on a diet

AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes (seated) tests one of the seats at a launch event at the Aircraft Exteriors Expo in Hamburg

AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes (seated) tests one of the seats at a launch event at the Aircraft Exteriors Expo in Hamburg

The Hawk seat is much slimmer than the standard seats used on aircraft, with comfortable armrests and extendable tray tables

The Hawk seat is much slimmer than the standard seats used on aircraft, with comfortable armrests and extendable tray tables

Comfort and size are the most common complaints about economy class seats, and they're about to undergo a major overhaul.

Airlines are moving to thinner seats with ergonomic designs, composite frames and new materials.

One of the newest to be unveiled is the Formula 1-inspired Hawk seat from British manufacturer Mirus. It will eventually be used on all flights operated by Malaysia-based low-cost carrier AirAsia.

Designed for short-range flights, the lightweight Hawk seat features an ultra-slim backrest, armrests at comfortable lengths, 10-degree recline, a width of 17.3in between arms and an extendable tray table.

Each seat has a USB charger (an in-seat power point is optional) and a pocket to hold magazines or a slim electronic device. Keeping with the no-frills approach of budget carriers, there are no in-flight entertainment screens.

The cabin that social media built

Airbus said its new cabin, called Airspace by Airbus, will be introduced out on its new A330neo aircraft when they enter service in 2017

Airbus said its new cabin, called Airspace by Airbus, will be introduced out on its new A330neo aircraft when they enter service in 2017

For in-flight entertainment, passengers can watch HD and 3D films or programmes on larger screens and connect their own devices

For in-flight entertainment, passengers can watch HD and 3D films or programmes on larger screens and connect their own devices

Airbus said the A330neo aircraft will have a spacious new passenger welcome area that can be customised by the airline

Airbus said the A330neo aircraft will have a spacious new passenger welcome area that can be customised by the airline

Airbus analysed common cabin complaints and suggestions on social media while designing its newest cabin, Airspace, which will be unveiled on the new A330neo when it enters commercial service in 2017.

Unveiled in March, the modern cabin features wide seats, softer lighting and larger overhead storage bins for hand luggage.

Airbus promised a comfortable experience for travellers even though the Airspace cabin will have, on average, 10 more seats than the current A330 model that is being phased out.

TAP Portugal will be the first airline to feature the interior, but it will also be used by the likes of Delta Air Lines, Garuda Indonesia and AirAsia X.

Watch Netflix on your mobile or tablet

Business class passengers will be able to sync their mobile phone or tablet to the Waterfront seat's in-flight entertainment system

Business class passengers will be able to sync their mobile phone or tablet to the Waterfront seat's in-flight entertainment system

Passengers' devices, including mobile phones, can be charged wirelessly when placed on a side table near to a touchscreen monitor

Passengers' devices, including mobile phones, can be charged wirelessly when placed on a side table near to a touchscreen monitor

With almost every traveller carrying a smartphone or tablet, airlines are shifting towards in-flight entertainment systems that incorporate personal devices.

Those systems would allow passengers to use their device to control what is displayed on the screen, be it an on-demand film or content from their own gadget, or watch programming provided by the airline on their mobile or tablet.

Airlines and Wi-Fi providers are also working together on faster systems that would allow passengers to stream content from services such as Netflix. 

In the Waterfront concept suite, passengers would be able to control almost every feature or setting, including a touchscreen monitor, seating positions and LED lighting, with their smartphone or tablet.

The seat, designed by Panasonic Avionics, B/E Aerospace, Formation Design Group and Teague, can wirelessly recharge a passenger's phone when it is placed on a side table.

Travellers will be able to sync their own devices when they travel on Airbus planes outfitted with its new Airspace interior, starting on the A330neo next year. 

Fancy lighting and adverts on the walls

The Viu lighting system, from B/E Aerospace, uses an array of lighting palettes and patterns, and can be installed anywhere on a plane

The Viu lighting system, from B/E Aerospace, uses an array of lighting palettes and patterns, and can be installed anywhere on a plane

Diehl Aerospace’s lighting system is capable of projecting static or moving images onto the cabin walls or overhead storage bins

Diehl Aerospace’s lighting system is capable of projecting static or moving images onto the cabin walls or overhead storage bins

Softer lighting has been one of the big demands from passengers and it is being used on newer aircraft to curb the effects of jet lag.  

With a flexible strip design, B/E Aerospace's Viu system - another Crystal Cabin Award winner - uses an array of lighting palettes, patterns, timed intervals and lumels, and can be installed anywhere on a plane.

Florida-based B/E Aerospace said the system is currently being installed on more than 100 planes with clients such as British Airways, American Airlines, Emirates and Japan Airlines.

German company Diehl Aerospace has unveiled a lighting system that projects static and moving images onto the walls - from mountain scenes and birds to starry scenes and even adverts.

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