Are these the plane seats of the future? London design firm paints picture of post-pandemic air travel

The future success of the airline industry lies in its ability to reduce passenger anxiety, improve personal space and hygiene levels, and facilitate touch-free journeys

Streamlined, seam-free seats; antimicrobial finishes; minimal touch points and a colour palette designed to reassure: UK design firm PriestmanGoode has unveiled its vision of the future of air travel.

Its Pure Skies concept reimagines business and economy class cabins for a post-pandemic travel industry – while moving away from the notion of “class” altogether and instead introducing “rooms” and “zones”.

Acknowledging that airlines are currently preoccupied with resuming services and protecting jobs, PriestmanGoode believes it will take at least three years for the aircraft cabins of the future to be developed and certified – but has started envisaging what they might look like.

The future success of the airline industry lies in its ability to reduce passenger anxiety, improve personal space and hygiene levels, and facilitate touch-free journeys, the team predicts.

In the Pure Skies Room, formerly known as business class, each seat is a fully enclosed space, separated by full-height curtains. An innovative seat design will feature minimal split lines and seam-welded fabrics, while finishes and materials will all be antimicrobial.

Seats in a Pure Skies Room. Courtesy PriestmanGoode

Each individual “room” will offer the option to personalise lighting and temperature settings, and will include an in-flight entertainment system that can be fully synchronised with the passenger’s own devices.

To further minimise unnecessary contact, each passenger will have their personal overhead stowage and wardrobe.

In the Pure Skies Zone – PriestmanGoode’s answer to economy class – dividing screens will be placed between every other row to create a separation between passengers, while a staggered seat configuration will maximise the feeling of personal space.

Seat shells will have gap-free backs to eliminate dirt traps, while the recline mechanism will be incorporated within the fabric skin to further avoid hard-to-clean crevices.

PriestmanGoode is also proposing the removal of in-flight entertainment screens on the back of its economy seats, in favour of passengers using their own devices. Alternatively, airlines can hire out screens, introducing a new revenue stream.

Seat-back trays would also become a thing of the past with this new proposal, replaced instead with clip-on meal trays.

Purple lighting helps facilitate the transition between boarding and in-flight mode. Courtesy PriestmanGoode

Maria Kafel-Bentkowska, PriestmanGoode's head of colour, material and finish explains: “We’ve taken hygiene to a whole new level by leveraging the latest developments in colour, material and finish, and completely rethinking the seat cover construction. We’ve eliminated all but the essential seat breaks needed for functionality. Other split lines have been treated with heat-welded tape that eliminates places for the virus to hide.

As the virus is invisible, we've taken into consideration passengers' needs for reassurance while boarding

“However as the virus is invisible, we’ve taken into consideration passengers’ needs for reassurance while boarding,” Kafel-Bentkowska continues. “We have introduced the idea of UVC light and heat cleaning to the cabin. And, by using existing technologies such as photochromic and thermochromic inks that would react to the new cleaning methods, a message of reassurance can be seen on the fabric surface while boarding, but then disappears once the passenger is settled.

"Turning the invisible visible and creating a graphic interface to communicate a message of reassurance supports the airlines’ brand messages around hygiene and safety.”

Purple lighting will signal that the cleaning process is underway. This will then transition to peach and yellow tones, to create a warm and positive onboard environment. Meanwhile, the palette on seats and throughout both cabins will be kept light, to further reassure passengers. Shades of green have also been introduced to provide a natural, calming effect.

“This latest work from the studio represents pragmatic innovation,” says Nigel Goode, co-founding director of PriestmanGoode. “With the benefit of over 30 years’ experience, we know how to harness design to achieve long-term positive change.

"We’ve looked ahead to imagine future scenarios 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.”

“With both passengers and airline employees at the heart of this project, we have not only taken onboard present anxieties, but also tried to ensure our solutions are future-proofed against future pandemics, recognising the significant commitment and investment involved,” adds Goode.