This year’s Crystal Cabin Awards shortlist provides an intriguing look at the potential future of aviation, with ideas that range from a cabin concept that completely eliminates the middle seat to a stylish design that elevates single-aisle aircraft business class.
The Crystal Cabin Awards feature cutting-edge concepts each year that reinvent the in-flight experience. In eight categories, the awards highlight everything from environmentally beneficial innovations—like a German airline Lufthansa’s AI-based food waste app idea—to cutting-edge ideas straight from the university lecture hall.
The Crystal Cabin Award Association’s Julia Grosser claims that this year’s nomination indicates that aviation is now moving past the uncertainty of the peak epidemic years.
According to Grosser, who spoke to CNN Travel, “airlines, manufacturers, and suppliers are heavily investing in their onboard products again.” She cites the “substantial innovation seen even in economy class — from bunk beds to greater internet.”
Innovation in the air
Air New Zealand’s “Skynest” proposal, which envisions bookable sleeping pods made up of six lie-flat bunk beds and is intended to allow economic long-haul travelers the option to get some quality rest, is one of the nominated cabin improvements.
According to Kerry Reeves, head of aircraft programs at Air New Zealand, “long-haul travel is essential to keeping us connected and allowing people to visit our lovely country because we are a small country at the bottom of the planet. SkyNest was created because Air New Zealand thinks passengers should be able to “have a good rest, no matter the cabin,” to use Reeves’ phrase.
The pods are set up like bunk beds, with two rows, each with three beds, and are bookable for roughly four hours.
Since the concept was first unveiled in 2020, Air New Zealand has been working on SkyNest. The project is presently well under way, according to Reeves, who adds that the airline is “going through the in-depth certification and engineering aspect of having the Skynest on our new 787 aircraft.”
Several prototypes have also been constructed by Air New Zealand. At the moment, it is debating if it can send one to the 2023 Airline Interiors Exhibition in Hamburg, Germany, where the Crystal Cabin Award Association will be announcing its 2023 winners. The “Front-Row Business Class Retreat,” created by Adient Aerospace in collaboration with Boeing EnCore Interiors, is one of the other designs that made the shortlist.
According to Stephanie Faulk, director of sales and marketing at Adient, “the design challenge of bringing a wide-body experience to a narrow-body cabin” served as the inspiration for the idea, which has been under development since early 2022.
According to Faulk, narrow-body aircraft are taking on long-haul missions and traveling farther as their capabilities increase. “As a result, there is an innate demand for more comfort and amenities comparable to wide-body airplanes.”
While traveling in business class on wide-body aircraft can be a highly posh experience, doing so on narrower aircraft typically only entails a little bit more leg room and upscale food and drink.
A lie-flat bed, tons of luggage storage, a minibar, a library, and room for another passenger to join you for a conference or catch-up were among the features that Adient and Boeing Encore Interiors envisioned for an elevated short-haul business class.
According to Faulk, airlines have already “shown a great deal of interest” in the idea.
The “Multicabin” idea from Spanish architecture firm Taller De Arquitectura T36 aims to entirely redesign the aircraft cabin, in contrast to Adient’s design, which works within the constraints of currently used cabin arrangements.
Three distinct economic cabins are depicted on two levels by Taller De Arquitectura T36. The goal is to “say goodbye to middle seats,” according to the designers. Real and virtual windows are combined in the design.
Even though the emergency evacuation situation is less evident, the design would increase the number of seats in the cabin—always attractive to airlines.
The French aircraft interior designer Safran Seats’ Euphony new seat concept, which was created in partnership with the audio technology company Devialet and is another entry that has been shortlisted, aims to enhance inflight entertainment.
Personal headsets are unnecessary with Euphony. Instead, speakers are added to the headrest of each seat, and the sound levels have been optimized so that passengers can enjoy their preferred in-flight entertainment without being overheard or bothered by their neighbor.
At the Aircraft Interiors Expo last year, CNN Travel put the idea to the test. The results? “Euphony is no replacement for the cocoon-like experience of noise-canceling headphones, but it’s a comfortable set up and feels more like the experience of watching a movie on your couch,” CNN Travel concluded.
The “University” category of the Crystal Cabin Award provides a window into the thinking of the upcoming group of aircraft designers.
Consider the Tilde Aviation Idea created by Joshua Nilsson, a Scottish Savannah College of Art and Design alumnus.
Originally Nilsson’s senior thesis for college, it depicts an enclosed, private in-flight apartment that would be perfect for travelers traveling in groups.
Four chairs placed across from one another can be converted into lie-flat beds in the suite.
Nilsson claims to have drawn inspiration from happy memories of family trips.
“The experiences are supposed to be alone, from economy to first class, and for me, travel is anything but that,” he claims. “I designed an airplane suite suitable for group travel because I wanted to put connectivity at the center of my design,” the designer said.
Nilsson recently made a return transfer to Scotland, where he established his own design firm. He says he’s hoping the Crystal Cabin Awards’ publicity would help him realize his idea.
The finalists for the Crystal Cabin Awards will be revealed in May, and the winners will be revealed in June.