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Self-Cleaning Bathrooms? Catch a Glimpse of the Future of Flying

by Harriet Baskas /

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Self-sterilizing lavatories, a desirable middle-seat and entertainment projected on cabin ceilings are just some of the innovative ideas vying for the coveted airline industry awards known informally as the “Aircraft Cabin Oscars.”

Set to be awarded in Hamburg, Germany on April 5, the Crystal Cabin Awards not only reward current industry creativity. They also offer a sneak peek at improvements airline passengers might encounter on a future flight.

Here are some highlight from the list of 24 finalists in eight different categories. See if you can spot a few winners:

In the “Visionary Concepts” category, contestants include Formation Design, which proposes to increase the number of lie-flat seats that can fit in premium class cabins by rejiggering the layout and slightly layering the beds of passengers in First Class suites over those in lie-flat Business Class seats.

“This allows the suite’s bed to overlap the foot wells of the standard beds,” the company said in a statement, and would allow airlines to put more lie-flat seats in each premium cabin.

Courtesy of TEAGUE / Courtesy of TEAGUE

Zodiac Aerospace wants to discard the airplane cabin classes entirely and instead offer areas for sitting, sleeping, working and lounging. And on Poppi, an imaginary airline invented by Seattle-based design studio TEAGUE, passengers would be enticed to choose the usually undesirable middle seat for the free products and perks provided by sponsoring companies.

In the “Cabin Concepts” category, Etihad Airways and Acumen Design made the finals with a First Suite for the Boeing 787 that mirrors the larger version of the suite first introduced on the Airbus A380.

Virgin Australia’s partnership with Tangerine for the re-launch of its A330 and B777 premium cabins, with louvered privacy panels and passenger-controlled mood lighting, is also in this category, along with a proposal from design firm Seymourpowell for a boutique hotel-style approach to the First Class cabin offering single and double “rooms.”

Finalists in other categories include Diehl Aerospace’s idea for an embedded projection system that can not only put static and moving patterns and images on cabin surfaces “to create a perfect cabin atmosphere,” but also give airlines other opportunities, including "provision of passenger information and commercial advertisement.” is in the running with a folding economy class seat that passengers can use as a child booster seat, or reposition “to prevent stiffness or discomfort” during a flight or to make room for others boarding or exiting the plane.

And those self-sterilizing airplane lavatories? They’re in the “Greener Cabin, Health, Safety & Environment” category. The Boeing engineers and designers who came up with the idea say the new-fangled in-flight restroom will use ultraviolet light to kill 99.99 percent of germs on all surfaces in just three seconds — while the lavatory is empty.

"We're trying to alleviate the anxiety we all face when using a restroom that gets a workout during a flight," said Jeanne Yu, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Director of Environmental Performance, in a statement.

Boeing has filed a patent for the in-flight UV cleaning system and is not yet offering it to airlines, but the design calls for the product to lift and close the toilet seat by itself “so that all surfaces are exposed during the cleaning cycle.”

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