(CNN) – As more planes return to the skies, airports and airlines continue to enforce measures to keep passengers as safe as possible, while Covid-19 continues to be an issue.
But even if face masks and temperature checks are the order of the day – as well as travel destination requirements for proof of vaccination or a negative test – there is still a possibility that a passenger could develop Covid symptoms during the flight.
The PaxCASE concept (Passenger Containment Area for Symptomatic Events) from Airbus is intended for this – its semi-transparent plastic film surrounds a potentially infectious passenger in an insulating bladder.
Ingo Wuggetzer, Vice President of Cabin Marketing at Airbus, tells CNN Travel that PaxCASE is designed either in a fixed position in the aircraft cabin – on a kind of curtain rail – or as a removable tarpaulin to be fixed to the ceiling with strong adhesive tape.
The barrier would enclose a row of seats and cut off three seats – including the one occupied by the symptomatic passenger.
“It’s a very simple, simple principle that the crew uses in an emergency,” explains Wuggetzer.
The concept was nominated in the Clean and Safe Air Travel category at the Crystal Cabin Awards 2021, which focus on the latest trends in aircraft interiors.
The Crystal Cabin Awards typically have eight categories, but this year focuses on two major awards that recognize the state of the art in aviation: the Clean and Safe Air Travel category and the Judges Choice category.
In spring 2020, the continued global spread of Covid-19 and the resulting standstill in the aviation industry sparked a wave of innovations in aircraft seats and cabins.
“There was a kind of real panic about the crisis about what to do and what we can do,” says Wuggetzer.
Wuggetzer says Airbus came up with PaxCASE during this time – when the pandemic brought global air traffic to a standstill, the Airbus designers went to the drawing board to develop new concepts for safe flying.
“I think we developed more than 2,000 ideas,” recalls Wuggetzer.
Airbus representatives then spoke to airlines about some of the strongest concepts, including PaxCASE.
About a year later, most of the higher-value concepts that made the headlines have not materialized.
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Wuggetzer points out that a lot has changed since spring 2020. For one, there is more understanding of how the virus works and how it spreads. Also, vaccines and tests are more common, at least in some markets.
The goal is for current global government and airline restrictions to weed out infectious passengers before they sit next to you on the plane.
So while PaxCASE could be a hit with the Crystal Cabin Awards juries, airlines are currently not showing much interest in the isolation device.
“I would say [it is] rather at the bottom of the list of priorities, “says Wuggetzer.” Basically, nobody wants it, and I honestly don’t think anyone wants to use it either.
Instead, according to Wuggetzer, the airlines are concentrating on making the flight experience as contact-free as possible, and are particularly interested in coating cabin surfaces with antimicrobial polishes.
Such solutions are also attractive because a complete cabin does not have to be retrofitted or redesigned.
The only drawback, according to Wuggetzer, is that these concepts are not visually noticeable and therefore may be less noticeable to passengers than, for example, large partition walls or flashy new aircraft seats.
Airbus is currently working to publicize the less visible changes in passengers in order to reassure travelers.
“Safe and Easy”
While PaxCASE isn’t in high demand, the Crystal Cabin Awards recognition of the design suggests it has legs.
“If you have a real problem, then this solution is clearly a safe and easy way to deal with it, and I think that’s why it’s in,” says Wuggetzer, who is also on the Crystal Cabin jury. Of course, he cannot vote for any Airbus designs.
It is exciting, says Wuggetzer, to see the nominated solutions for a safe travel experience, especially in a year in which the aviation industry has tightened its belts.
“A lot of companies have really laid off people and scaled back their efforts to innovate. So I’m thinking of a number of entries, we were pretty surprised,” he says.
The full list of this year’s Crystal Cabin Awards nominees can be found here. The winners are expected to be announced at this year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo, which will take place virtually in September 2021.
Top photo courtesy of Airbus