Cabins And Seats May Look Quite Different The Next Time You Fly

Angus Whitley, Bloomberg

Headrest canopies and fabric barriers between seats could start appearing in airplane cabins as the embattled industry tries to ward off the coronavirus.

Airlines desperate for governments to lift travel restrictions and passengers to return are looking at ways to reassure the public that their health won’t be compromised on a flight. New-look seats and fresh cabins could be a start.

One of the biggest companies in that business, Recaro Aircraft Seating GmbH, has designed a range of modifications to keep passengers apart and protect them from infection.

Airlines are considering installing Recaro’s equipment as temporary cabin makeovers, according to Chief Executive Officer Mark Hiller. They need fittings that are easy to maneuver, lightweight and available at short notice, he said.

“There is definitely large interest from across the different regions,” Hiller said in an interview.

With a coronavirus vaccine possibly years away, airlines need to persuade the public it is safe to fly when an infected passenger might be next to them. Sporadic flareups around the world are putting people off: Global traffic in July was down almost 80% from a year earlier, a steeper-than-expected slump, the International Air Transport Association said last week.

Of the planes that are flying, many are half empty. Aircraft typically must be 70% to 80% full to turn a profit, so that increases the appeal of devices that let passengers sit side by side without touching heads, brushing shoulders or nudging elbows.

Airlines are also figuring out how to apply a disinfectant coating developed by Recaro onto their seats, Hiller said. The German company says it has revamped the substance to repel viruses including Covid-19.

While the industry has for months said there’s little chance of catching the virus on a plane because there are hospital-grade air filters on board, that argument has been undermined by breakouts on some flights.

All 187 passengers and six crew on a TUI AG flight from the Greek resort of Zante to Cardiff last month were asked to self-isolate after at least 16 confirmed cases were identified on the Aug. 25 service.

Recaro, which sold about 150,000 aircraft seats last year, isn’t immune to the crisis gripping the aviation industry, despite potential demand for its designs. Hiller said revenue is expected to drop almost 60% this year.

“Even if airlines aren’t going to buy new planes, they might go for new cabins that are more comfortable or adapted to Covid,” he said.

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