How many times do you touch the cabin around you in an airplane when you fly? How about the airport? How many times do the people working there touch your belongings?
The answer today is, as a rule, “quite a lot.” But airlines, airports and the aviation industry want the answer in the near future to be “quite a bit less.”
“Touchless travel” comprises a fairly wide collection of individual changes and additions to the environment around us, everything from hands-free flushing in airport and airplane lavatories to automated scan-and-board gates, controlling your inflight entertainment system from your phone or tablet, and much more.
“Touchless travel promises peace of mind,” explains Daniel Baron, who operates LIFT Aero Design, an aircraft cabin design studio with offices in Tokyo and Singapore, calling it “the state of not having to even think about ‘clean,’ made possible by technologies and processes to mitigate angst along the journey.”
It also includes not just touch-free but also “less-touch” and “fewer-touch” travel: both the need to touch physical things in the travel environment less and also fewer times during each interaction.
Making touchless cabins is very complex
“In the cabin, the most promising area is the lavatory,” explains Baron. “It is common knowledge in the cabin interiors industry that even before Covid, many passengers hesitated to use lavatories out of negative perception; in other words, having to touch dirty surfaces. We have seen incremental improvements over the past decade, mostly touchless faucets and toilet lids and flush buttons. Next will be soap dispensers and hand dryers, plus the doors and locks.”
Some of this is automated, such as infrared sensing faucets, but some of it is also redesigning physical parts of the experience, such as doors or trash bins you can open with your feet.
Of course, adding new features to the aircraft cabin can get complicated because there are many safety regulations.
“Any change to the aircraft architecture requires consultation, testing and validation to achieve certification,” explains Matt Round, chief creative officer at Tangerine, a design consultancy in London. “There is therefore a need for accelerated certification and conversations earlier within the process and a need to look at relationships across all parties to enable faster certification.”
Fortunately, some of this work is already under way.
The Independent Aircraft Modifier Alliance is a group of companies that carry out these kinds of modifications for airlines, which has for several years now been pushing for harmonization and clarification of the various national regulations.
“The technology is ready,” says IAMA Managing