Seven Airplane Innovations That Could Change How We Travel

In-flight virtual reality entertainment? Bunk beds in the cargo hold? These innovations may be the future of flight.

Airbus and Zodiac Aerospace have teamed up on lower-deck modules like this one, with sleeping berths. Airbus

Summer travel season is almost here, and we’re all set to fly to Dubai on Emirates’ A380, in the new first-class private suite with the shower spa and the sky bar.

Well, we can dream, anyway.

In a competitive air travel market, airlines are innovating as fast as they can, offering new designs and amenities in response to market needs and passenger desires. Some of these innovations make flying more luxurious (to those who can afford it—a first-class ticket from New York to Dubai on Emirates costs nearly $30,000). Others are intended to save on fuel costs or cram more passengers into the already cattle pen-like fuselage. Here are seven of the most interesting, amazing and downright scary recent airline innovations, for your summer travel pleasure.

Standing Seats

(Aviointeriors )

Do you find economy seats too comfortable? Eschew empty spots on the subway in favor of strap-hanging? Well we’ve got an innovation for you! Airlines have been kicking around the idea of standing seats for a while now, and this year at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Germany, Italian company Aviointeriors unveiled a prototype of such a design. The Sky Rider 2.0 seats are “saddle seats,” allowing people to lean a bit of their weight on the seat while still basically, well, standing. Previous standing seat designs have been nixed by regulators, so it remains to be seen whether the Sky Rider ever takes off (sorry).

Stacked Seats

(US Patent and Trademark Office )

OK, so maybe the standing seat doesn’t sound quite punishing enough? How about a stacked seat, where you’d literally be lying underneath, or on top of, your fellow passengers? Airbus has filed a patent for such an arrangement, which it euphemistically calls “mezzanine seating.” The top seats would take the place of the overhead bins, so pack light!

Self-Cleaning Seats

(Recaro )

Many of us are preoccupied with not getting sick on planes, hence the perennial popularity of articles with titles like “How not to get sick on a plane.” One possible way to avoid the economy class head cold could be this new self-cleaning seat. Designed by Recaro Aircraft Seating GmbH, the seat, currently under development, is impregnated with germ-killing disinfectants. The company says the seats will be available in the next year or two.

Cargo Hold Bunks and Playgrounds


Airbus is currently developing a design to turn its cargo holds into flying capsule hotels. After take-off, passengers would be able to access the hold, where they could nap in modular beds, work at pull-out desks or exercise in airborne gyms. There could even be a children’s play area, a godsend to any parent who’s ever held a squirming toddler on their lap for the length of the Atlantic. It’s still in the concept phase, so don’t expect to be getting out of your seat any time soon.

In-Flight VR

(US Patent and Trademark Office )

For most of us, flying is somewhere between boring and terrifying. But what if you could pop on a virtual reality helmet and be transported to a field of daisies? Airbus has patented such a helmet, which creates an immersive environment for watching 3D movies, playing video games or simply relaxing. This is one design we could definitely get on board with (sorry again!).

Flying Double Beds and Dining Rooms

(PriestmanGoode )

Qatar Airways recently unveiled designs for its QSuite, with moving panels and swiveling seats that can be configured into a private dining room for four, for family meals or business meetings at 35,000 feet. Seats can also be transformed into private beds. The next time you’re heading from Sydney to Doha with four figures burning a hole in your pocket, give it a try.

A Smarter Faucet

(Cranfield University )

The E-tom Smart faucet, designed by researchers from Cranfield University in the UK, helps planes save on water, and therefore fuel. The faucets atomize water, breaking it into a fine mist that still comes out fast enough to clean hands, allowing lavatory-goers to use some 90 percent less. It also has charcoal filters to keep water pure, and can clean itself. Now if only someone could make the lavatory less claustrophobic.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.