‘Floating’ airplane cabin could be the future of travel

Editor’s Note — Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that spotlights some of the most fascinating topics in the travel world. In June, we’re taking to the skies for a look at the latest developments in plane interiors, including the people working to change the way we fly.

Hamburg (CNN) — A design for “floating” airplane furniture and a cabin concept that could give each passenger their own personal fridge are among the winners of this year’s Crystal Cabin Awards.

The prestigious aviation awards, which highlight innovation and creativity in airplane interiors, were announced at a ceremony at the 2022 Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, Germany.

Speaking to CNN Travel at the awards, president of the Crystal Cabin Award Association Lukas Kaestner said a team of industry experts spent a day interrogating each submission before arriving at their decision. Judges debated the creativity and ingenuity of the ideas, and also considered reactions from airlines and potential passengers.

Not all of the finalists’ products are on the market, or anywhere near, says Kaestner. Many are still just concepts. But “the underlying question of most decisions by the jury” is, he explains, “Is it something that has a realistic chance to fly?’

‘Floating’ cabin furniture

After much discussion, the 24 finalists, already cut down from a lengthy shortlist, were whittled down to eight winners, with Teague and NORDAM’s Elevate cabin design, which visualizes a premium cabin filled with “floating” seats, taking the top spot in the Cabin Concepts category.

Speaking to CNN Travel earlier at AIX, the Teague team explained that the idea behind the concept was to “open up more space” in the cabin, by attaching all the furniture to one track that’s connected to the sidewall and aisle.

The idea, said the Teague team, started when airplane designers were chatting over a beer at AIX three years ago. The designers and engineers realized they were all facing the same problem — how to free up space in airplane cabins without losing seats in the process. They set about dreaming up a solution.

Meanwhile, Collins Aerospace’s passenger fridge concept, called SpaceChiller, took home the award in the Passenger Comfort category. The Crystal Cabin jury was intrigued by Collins’ claim that the fridge would use half the power of traditional airplane fridge designs. The fridge’s potential to be scaled up or down, allowing for a mini version to be placed in arm’s reach of a potential passenger, was also a draw for judges.

Nominees that missed out on the night included Collins Aerospace’s non-reclining business class seat Airlounge, which premiered on Finnish airline Finnair earlier this year, and Pexco Aerospace’s pandemic-inspired AirShield device, produced in collaboration with Teague, which is designed to enhance airplane air flow, creating an invisible “shield” around individual passengers.

Promoting innovation

The Crystal Cabin Awards often sees some of its most innovative submissions crop up in the University category, where the next generation of aviation designers offer up their take on the future of flying.

Kaestner told CNN Travel that it’s always intriguing to see where former nominees in this category end up.

Some, such as Alejandro Nunez Vicente, nominated in 2021 for his double decker airplane seat, have gone on to found their own start-ups.

This year’s student winner is Ken Kirtland, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, who dreamed up a zero-emission electric aircraft called Portal, that would utilize underused regional airports and fly at lower altitude.

With airplane passengers increasingly clamoring for more sustainable options, and the industry increasingly forced to address the stark realities of their carbon footprint, Kirtland’s design caught the eye of the Crystal Cabin judges.

Portal’s eye-catching interiors also played a part in Kirtland’s win — the idea is that the cabin would feature premium seats dotted around the cabin, with passengers able to enjoy sweeping views of the sky.

For Kaestner, the University category sums up what the Crystal Cabin Awards is about.

“We want to foster innovation and just create or fuel the discussion on passenger experience,” he said.

Winners, Crystal Cabin Awards 2022:

Winner Cabin Concepts: Teague and NORDAM “Elevate”

Winner Cabin Systems: Caeli Nova “Cordillera”

Winner Health and Safety: Safran Cabin “Fire Resistant Cargo Container”

Winner Passenger Comfort: Collins Aerospace “SpaceChiller”

Winner IFEC & Digital Services: Anuvu coop. Southwest Airlines “Dedicated Space”

Winner Material & Components: Thales Avionics “Pulse”

Winner Sustainable Cabin: Diab “100% Recyclable Panels for Cabin Interiors”

Winner University: Ken Kirtland “Portal”

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