Business class is rampant with innovation. Or it was until 2020. With the global travel shutdown we have seen a surge of cutbacks. Now everything from onboard wifi to champagne is on the chopping block.
Whether you think complaints which bemoan this year’s pared-back offerings lack perspective, or whether you are as infuriated by Singapore Airlines’ decision to temporarily get rid of champagne as this man (whose rant went viral in July), you’ll have noticed a slump rather than a bump in 2020’s pointy end offering.
But that’s not to say big plans are not still in the works. Like Reddit bros’ faith in dubious stocks, people’s urge to travel is irrepressible. Though domestic markets are seeing a quicker upturn than international ones, the bounce back is underway all over.
Not to mention, the health concerns wrought by the pandemic make for an atmosphere ripe for disruption, with carriers looking to gain an edge in making travellers feel comfortable again.
Enter: a brand new high-tech monocoque (think: the thing Formula 1 drivers sit in) called Airtek. Brainchild of JPA Design, the company which restyled business class for the modern age a decade ago, Airtek could redefine the pointy end experience.
“Airy, spacious, futuristic,” with “materials borrowed from Formula 1 cars” (CNN Travel) Airtek is an aviation reporter’s wet dream. But will it be good for passengers?
The early signs are positive. As CNN Travel reports, this monocoque revolution will mean more space, lighter seats, smaller carbon footprints (read: a lighter conscience) and more reliable seats with fewer moving parts to break.
“A monocoque is a term and approach inspired by the automotive racing industry. It’s really a unification of structure and other components that are around it – rather than having an independent metal structure, independent composite furniture, independent seat, independent frame, all these all these different parts – by unifying them into a single highly efficient composite body with no wasted space,” JPA’s Creative Director Elliott Koehler told CNN Travel.
JPA’s plan is to make the seat structure entirely out of composites, which will make it super strong for its weight, as well as freeing up space for your feet, knees and hand luggage.
“The benefit to the passenger would be enormous in terms of leg room, and the ability to store a full sized cabin bag in the seat right in front of them,” Koehler said. “That would mean the reduction or removal of overhead bins, further reducing the weight of this airplane. And of course, less bins means a much more open cabin.”
This fits in with the pointy end trend of recent years, in which airlines have been providing more storage for bags and even jackets around business class seats (and often suites).
This is also smart coming out of COVID: in an era where travellers will likely appreciate a dearth of communal facilities like overhead bins.
“We’re keeping things really open” in the Airtek seat, Koehler told CNN Travel. “There’s a little storage for a laptop that’s remarkably open, so you can see it’s a clean and a safe place to put your electronics. The coat hook is just this very minimal strap, almost like a piece of footwear fashion. So that keeps it super clean, and super open and super lightweight. So everything a passenger sees as they’re looking around this seat will communicate this new vision – a lightweight, but also a comfortable and new open experience.”
The seat still needs to be certified as safe, given that it must be able to withstand 16g impacts (16 times the force of gravity) while protecting its occupant.
This is where, CNN Travel points out, JPA’s decades of experience in the industry (including working on previous generation products like 2010’s game-changing Cathay Pacific ‘herringbone’ pod seat) will come into play.
“The JPA team hopes to have a fully resolved model in place for April 2021 – either in person at the annual Aircraft Interiors Expo or virtually, depending on the epidemiological situation – to show their design off to airline customers considering their next generation of business class seats,” (CNN Travel).
In the meantime: let’s just hope we can fly internationally and enjoy products like these again soon.