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8 New Airline Passenger Comfort Features and Inventions

Updated September 19, 2019. Do you feel like a stuffed sardine, stuck in your airline seat for hours? How do you feel about that constant airplane cabin noise or the poor lighting inside your cabin? Airline passenger comfort features are improving and evolving all the time.

The airplane manufacturers are now coming out with new cabins improving on those nuisances of the past!

Here are the inventions which are supposed to improve your flight experience right now and in the near future:

1. Mood lighting

a. New technology

Airplane cabins were historically designed with a rather harsh lighting.  The old cabin lights designs consisted of fluorescent lights and sharp overhead reading lights, less than ideal for comfortable passenger experience. At the forefront of today’s improved cabin lighting is the new LED lights. These lights are also called “mood lights”. Mood lighting has multiple purposes: it counteracts jetlag, it relaxes you, and it refreshes you. According to professionals of psychology, mood lighting also has a calming effect on passengers, especially during the boarding process. You may notice color changes during the flight. That’s because each color actually has a specific purpose. On an all-night flight it induces better sleep, just to gradually wake the passengers up, and then to energize the occupants.

Airline passenger comfort features, A359 XWB Airbus LED mood lights
An Airbus A350 with LED mood lights. Credit: Airbus

b. The mind-tricks created by Mood Lighting

In addition to keeping passengers calm and improving the effects of jetlag, another benefit of mood lighting is “mind-tricks”. The mood lights can be set to alter the impression of day and night while you are flying. Lights can be turned down to shorten your day, or turned up to lengthen your day. This is adjusted based on the local time of your destination. Mimicking various times of the day using mood lighting results in an easier trans-continental or overseas flight transition for your body.

Airline passenger comfort features, LED lights.
LED mood lights and design. Credit: Boeing

2. Seats

Nothing speaks more in favor of airline passenger comfort features than that dreaded airline seat. Although we have yet to see a real improvement in cabins seats, and especially for coach seats, progress is in the works.

Airlines are still installing seats with less room between the rows, narrower seat widths, uncomfortable armrests, less seat recline and less leg space.

New ideas for improved seat comfort come out all the time. 

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But so far the only slight improvement has been the ergo-metrics of the coach seats.

Airlines are most concerned about increased revenue by squeezing in more seats in the cabin than ever.

Airline passenger comfort features, Boeing 737 cabin
B737 new seats and the Sky interior. Credit: Boeing.
Airline passenger comfort features, allure seats
New coach class seats. Credit: Airbus

3. Overhead bins

Overhead bin space is getting better all the time.

New jet cabins are being designed with the goal of one overhead space for each passenger on board.

The new inventions include a design where each carry-on suitcase can be placed into the overhead bin in an upright position next to each other.

By not having to insert a carry-on suitcase in a flat position the result is more carry-on overhead space for everybody.

Airline passenger comfort features, Airbus lights
Overhead bins, with ample space. Credit: Airbus.

4. Cabin windows

a. Today’s windows

Many passengers prefer a great view from their seats.

The Boeing 787 is a passenger jet, which offers larger than usual-sized cabin windows.

Otherwise, the windows are pretty much all the same on all passenger aircraft.

Windows are the usual round shape since that’s a better shape for withstanding the pressure of flight.

A glimpse of the future, however, can be had now.

Emirates Airlines are offering their first-class middle seat passengers virtual windows on their B777-300ER airplanes.

Virtual windows are panels shaped like real windows. These fake windows provide live-feeding the view outside through cameras on the outside of the airplane.

Airline passenger comfort features, B787 window
B787 cabin window. Credit: P. Hanson.

b. Airplane windows of the near future

Virtual windows on most airplanes certainly appear to be what we’ll see in the future.

The advantages of virtual windows are reduced airplane weight and drag, heat resistance to supersonic flight, and an excellent view for all passengers.

It will no longer matter where you sit. Everybody will have a ringside seat to the view outside.

spike jet
Here’s what the virtual windows will look like in the Spike supersonic business jet, to fly soon. Credit: Spike.
CPI virtual airplane window concept
CPI Aerospace’s virtual window airplane concept. Credit: CPI.
Boeing's virtual cabin ceiling
Boeing’s patented virtual window-system: projecting clouds and stars in the cabin ceiling. Credit: Allure.
Zones eating on an Airbus
Concept image of possible future virtual windows with zone seating on an Airbus airplane. Credit: Airbus.

5. Interior, airspace & high ceilings

Airbus is focusing on designing the feel of “airspace” in their cabins. Boeing has its own design-techniques to accomplish the same goal.

The purpose is to create the feeling of being inside a larger inside cabin.

Clever LED light design contributes to an impression of the cabin having a taller ceiling than it really has.

That, in turn, is supposed to minimize the traditional claustrophobic feeling some people get inside an airplane cabin.

airspace high ceiling
Airpace in an Airbus. Credit: Airbus.
Boeing interior
Boeing interior. Credit: Boeing.

6. First Class passenger beds in the cargo hold, the ultimate airline passenger comfort feature

Flying bunk beds in the cargo hold may soon be a reality.

Airbus and the design firm Zodiac have teamed up to possibly have these beds installed in the A330 long-haul jet.

If it becomes a reality you may be able to book your ticket in a cozy bed downstairs.

There you would be accompanied by cargo on the other side of the wall.

The mock-up photo from Airbus shows two-level of bunk-beds in a  hotel-like atmosphere. 

Cargo bunkbeds Airbus
The mock-up photo from Airbus shows two levels of bunk-beds in a  hotel-like atmosphere. Credit: Airbus.

7. Lavatories

In recent years, airlines have reduced the size and number of lavatories to squeeze even more seats into the cabin.

But more passengers means even bigger queues for the washroom, especially on long-haul flights when people are brushing their teeth and touching up their makeup.

Some international airlines, however, have upgraded their bathrooms for first-class passengers. 

The upgrades feature a sit-down seat, as well as wash sinks rivaling those of a luxury private home, and soft LED lights. 

small sink
Standard airplane lavatory wash sinks have shrunk on some airplanes. Credit: P. Hanson.
airline passenger comfort features
…while some first-class lavatories have been upgraded to a more luxurious look. Credit: Emirates.

8. Cabin noise level

It is well-known that noise-sounds make us fatigued.

After hours on end listening to the engine hum in the cabin, most of us are looking forward to the quiet well down on the ground again. 

Fortunately, modern airplane engines are getting quieter, further helping to minimize the beating our bodies take when we fly long distances.

Among the newest airplanes on the market the A350, A380, and the B787 are the quietest airplanes you can fly. 

There is nothing more pleasant than sitting in a jet airplane and hardly hear the noise from the engines.

In my opinion and personal experiences, the Airbus 380 and the Airbus 350 are the absolute quietest airplanes you can fly today, followed by the Boeing 787.

One contributor to quieter engine technology is the scalloped jet engine concept (see illustration).

airline passenger comfort features
A scalloped engine from GE (General Electric). Credit: J. Griffith.

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