Airlines are struggling to coax passengers back into the skies, and one company is looking to help solve that problem — by giving flyers a breath of their own fresh air.
Returning flyers are getting used to carriers’ new COVID-19 sanitation standards, including cabins intentionally booked under capacity to ensure extra space between passengers. Toward that end, Molon Labe Seating, a startup engineering firm based in Colorado, unveiled on Monday an additional design that will allows passengers to breathe their own personalized air supply.
Molon Labe’s staggered cabin seat, approved last year by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), was originally intended to give passengers more personal space, without airlines having to give up a significant number of seats. Now, the design carries the unintended benefit of reducing passenger touchpoints. The updated design routes air ducts directly into a personalized vent that’s positioned on a curved edge of the passenger’s headrest. That differs from standard seating, which pumps incoming air through an HVAC vent above a passenger’s head.
The headrest can be rotated 180 degrees toward the window or aisle, which creates a physical barrier between passengers.
In a travel industry decimated by coronavirus concerns, Molon Labe expects its design will give travelers a sense of security. The staggered seat layout already reduces contact points, such as on armrests, between passengers.
“This would at least give you the confidence that the air you’re breathing in would be coming only to you, on one side,” Hank Scott, Molon Labe Seating’s CEO told Yahoo Finance.
“It’s not 100% perfect, but we don’t want to block both sides in case you do want to talk with the person next to you,” he added.
Molon is also in talks with in-flight entertainment companies to outfit seats with “touchless” entertainment systems and “latchless” tray tables. The entertainment system, Scott said, would allow passengers to access on board entertainment through bluetooth using their own electronic and listening devices.
The company has improved on its original design with a new vented divider, something Scott is hoping will attract airlines that run long haul flights, as they’re more likely to need vigorous sanitation solutions to put customers at ease.
Added comfort would be particularly noticeable with a personalized vent on long-haul flights, he said. Long-haul aircraft ventilation systems are equipped with humidifiers, which would deliver the high quality air more directly to passengers.
Still, severely depressed airline revenues — caused by the coronavirus outbreak — could make pricey expenditures like Molon’s seat a tougher sell. The company’s plan to install its original staggered seat design on a major U.S. carriers aircraft was recently put on hold.
One the other hand, customer demand for increased sanitation could motivate airlines to keep upping their game on plane cleanliness. Carriers looking to enforce social distancing in the skies are only filling aisle and window seats, for now.
“We all know they’re not going to block the middle seat forever,” Scott said.
Alexis Keenan is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow on Twitter @alexiskweed.
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