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It's that time of year again -- the shortlist for the annual Crystal Cabin awards is out, showcasing the very latest ideas you might find on board your flights, with a particular focus this year on fantastic new concepts in business class seating.
But it's not all pie-in-the-sky, you'll-never-see-it-in-the-air concepts. Lufthansa's upgraded Boeing 747 first class (where each seat has its own full bed alongside) and Cathay Pacific's new business class seats also feature on the list.
So what haven't we seen before? Read on for our favourite seating ideas from this year's Crystal Cabin awards.
Capsule hotel-style business class bunks
Aviointeriors' Micro Suite business class concept is reminiscent of the old days of flying boats, which had day cabins and night cabins.
The Micro Suites have "daytime" seats, similar to international premium economy or domestic business class, where you might find the window pairs of seats on an Airbus A330, Boeing 777 or upstairs on an Airbus A380 today.
But the revolutionary idea is the sleeping cabin in the middle of the plane -- a very attractive concept for those full overnight flights of twelve hours or longer heading to the US or Europe.
Four capsule hotel-style sleeping bunks replace seats in the centre, with two bunks facing each side of the cabin. The double-stacking means that airlines can fit in as many passengers as traditional lie-flat seats, but you get a proper full bed.
An added benefit is that the seats on either side of the business class cabin are completely separate, meaning a smaller, more intimate cabin.
Elevated fully flat business seats
We're big fans of the fully flat "staggered" seating configuration in business class, where everyone has access to an aisle without having to clamber over their neighbour.
But some airlines are reluctant to give passengers that much room, since each person needs a little gangway out to the aisle so you don't have to step over anyone.
Formation Design Group has an idea to shake up the fully flat concept, though -- adding an extra person in a little mini-suite above the feet of two other passengers.
Since you'd get your own mini-suite, the company suggests that this could be a premium offering, perhaps given out to top tier (as it were) frequent flyers or for a small surcharge. We're not convinced that everyone will like to be elevated, thronelike, within the cabin, though this could be fixed with a privacy screen or translucent shell.
The forwards-backwards layout of the cabin also means that two of the gangways for window or centre seat passengers can be combined, which makes it an easier sell to airlines.
Sideways mini-aisles in business class
Another rethink of business class comes from C&D Zodiac, with the C3 concept seat. Instead of two aisles separating three columns of seats on a widebody plane like an A330 or 777, you'll find a single main aisle with smaller aisles branching off.
The design gives each fully flat seat direct aisle access -- a big plus -- and its own smaller overhead bin facing the mini-aisles. The forwards-backwards layout means that each mini-aisle is shared between six seats.
That means that you step into the mini-aisles to pop your things in the overhead bin, so boarding goes faster since passengers aren't blocking the main aisles.
The Meerkat seat in economy
In economy class, Hong Kong's Paperclip design has contributed the futuristic Meerkat seat concept. (No, it's not just futuristic because it's sleek, black and neon turquoise.)
Cleverly, the tray table can be used as a universal tablet stand for an iPad, ebook or other device by folding down part-way,with a lip to stop the iPad sliding off.
Each seat also comes with a universal power point, USB connections for charging and connecting your devices, and our favourite: a little hook for hanging your headphones. File that one firmly under "ideas we'd never considered but which are sheer genius".
Also under the clever column is a move to share in-flight magazines and shopping guides between every two passengers, cutting down on weight for airlines and adding extra space for passengers.
We're not quite as keen on the recline function, which looks like it's intended to tilt you into an almost-standing pose. And is that a briefcase behind the backrest? It seems a little odd if so.
Seats that fold down from the ceiling
In the "weird and wonderful" category comes the Zodiac Genesis seat, which folds down from the ceiling.
This Star Trek-style seat isn't for every route, and it doesn't look like it'll be much more comfortable than a regular economy or premium economy seat.
But what it provides is the opportunity for airlines to quickly vary the configuration of planes between cargo and passenger layouts. That could open up certain routes that currently aren't economical for airlines to run, especially for high-value, low-demand routes off the beaten business travel track.
What do you think?
What's your favourite of the five we've pulled out of the shortlist? Are you a fan of the capsule hotels, or do you reckon the sideways aisles are a winner?
Share your thoughts -- or ways to improve the concepts -- with other Australian Business Traveller readers in the comments section below!
More in-depth analysis and reviews from Australian Business Traveller:
- On the plane with Cathay Pacific's brand-new premium economy seat
- Lufthansa's all-new Boeing 747-8 fully flat business class seat: fantastic or footsie-prone?
- AusBT Food Week: seven days of all you ever wanted to know about business class food and wine
- So long to the non-reclining shell in Cathay Pacific's economy class
- Our full series of business traveller-specific guides to picking the best seats for your flight