How airline seating may change

One of the most common questions AAA Travel advisors field is “How are airlines handling the COVID pandemic?” AAA Travel recently hosted a SmartDepart Broadcast on the subject, which included representatives from the industry discussing increased sanitation, onboarding changes, and seat management. But there are lasting ramifications to the flight industry, and focus groups, engineers, and corporations are currently designing the new look of air travel.

We all envision plexiglass dividers between passengers or staggered row layouts with seats hosting personal space bubbles around travelers. But the questions remain around what is necessary, what is ineffective, and what makes the best sense. A wide variety of new concepts for airline seating are being discussed, based on the constantly changing universal understanding of the coronavirus.

One known fact is that the most effective barrier is closest to the mouth of an exhaling passenger, which highlights the importance of passengers with face masks. That’s why airlines are, by and large, mandating them. Even though cabins are close quarters, the aircraft environment does not seem to be much higher risk than other inside spaces. Few to zero flights have turned out to be infection clusters themselves. We can thank the widespread requirement to wear face masks onboard aircraft and HEPA filtration for their impact.

Now, the industry has shared a wide variety of cabin additions proposed to combat the spread of Covid-19 and to reassure passengers. Transparent barriers clipping into the seatback pocket, foam inserts for the top of the seat, sculpted headrest shrouding add-ons and more.

Janus seat from Aviointeriors has offered a cabin design where passengers face in alternating directions. With proposed barriers attached in a variety of ways to the seat, the design offers specific challenges in bringing the formation onboard. Any addition to the aircraft cabin needs to be certified as safe in a variety of ways. As always, materials must be fire-resistant and not give off fumes that might be toxic to passengers. It needs to resist incredible forces without shattering, creating sharp edges or blocking passengers’ emergency egress from their rows. These regulations apply to shields and barriers too, attached to the seat or provided by the airline. Anything attached to the seat needs to undergo crash testing, which has become more arduous in recent years as regulators insist on ever-safer travel.

The historic focus on aircraft cabins has been sturdiness. Additions, whether temporary or permanent, need to be cleaned and serviced regularly. Adding time to the already constrained schedules of airline cleaners creates complexity and cost, while airlines would also need to keep stocks of spares across their operations. The timing and release of a vaccine are also impacting the revision process. There’s little benefit in completing an expensive program just a couple of months ahead of the vaccine.

For now, the best ways to combat Covid-19 seem to be around minimizing contact between passengers, and between passengers and crew. Service standards have been changed to reduce the amount that crew circulates within the cabin, and meals have been rethought to reduce the amount of time they stay open to the air while being prepared and eaten, although food is not thought to be a transmission route.

For anyone traveling in 2020, masks and sanitizers are your new must-have travel accessories.

As you prepare to take to the air, you may have questions. AAA Travel SmartDepart Certified travel advisors are here for you. With a deep understanding of the industry, these advisors are responsible for staying up to date on all regulations, restrictions and protocols impacting travel. Together, your AAA Travel advisor will work with you to find a vacation that is both safe, and exhilarating. To speak to your advisor, please call 1-800-222-7448