Headrest canopies and fabric barriers between seats could appear in aircraft cabins as competitive industry tries to fight off the coronavirus.
Airlines desperate for governments to lift travel restrictions and passengers to return are looking for ways to reassure the public that their health will not be harmed when they fly. New looking seats and fresh cabins could be a start.
One of the largest companies in this business, Recaro Aircraft Seating GmbH, has come up with a number of modifications to keep passengers apart and protect them from infection.
According to Mark Hiller, chief executive officer, the airlines are considering installing Recaro equipment as a temporary cabin overhaul. You need fittings that are easy to maneuver, light, and available at short notice, he said.
“There is definitely a lot of interest from the various regions,” said Hiller in an interview.
With a coronavirus vaccine potentially years away, airlines must convince the public that it is safe to fly with an infected passenger next to them. Sporadic flare-ups around the world put people off: Global traffic fell nearly 80% year-over-year in July, a slump that was steeper than expected, the International Air Transport Association said last week.
Of the planes that fly, many are half empty. Planes typically need to be 70% to 80% full to make a profit. This adds to the appeal of devices that allow passengers to sit side by side without touching their head, brushing their shoulders, or nudging their elbows.
The airlines are also considering how to apply a disinfectant coating developed by Recaro to their seats, Hiller said. The German company has revised the substance to fend off viruses like Covid-19.
While the industry has been claiming for months that there is little chance of catching the virus on an airplane because hospital-grade air filters are on board, that argument has been undermined by outbreaks on some flights.
All 187 passengers and six crew members who flew 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 August 25 service.
Recaro, which sold around 150,000 aircraft seats last year, is not immune to the aviation industry crisis despite the potential demand for its designs. Hiller said sales are projected to decline nearly 60% this year.
“Even if airlines don’t buy new planes, they could opt for new cabins that are more comfortable or adapted to Covid,” he said.