Multiple storage areas in Singapore Airlines' first class suite

COVID-19 turns PaxEx “nesting” trend upside down

Details and Design banner with text on graph paper backgroundBefore COVID-19, “nesting” was a trend on the rise in aviation. Creating cosy, comfortable, hygge-fied spaces with plenty of storage nooks and crannies to allow people to unpack a little while on board was all the rage. But with the rise of disinfectant fogging, UV sanitisation and anti-microbial physical cleaning protocols, these amenities have become, in some ways, liabilities. So whither the future of nesting in the air?

First, a definition. Ben Orson, managing director of the new design house Orson Associates, defines nesting to Runway Girl Network as “the customisation of their immediate environment by passengers to suit their particular needs on a flight.”

The benefits, he says, include “enhancement of comfort and the ability to sleep, allowing for additional entertainment options, to facilitate access to general inflight amenities, to better enable working.”

Crucially, Orson notes, it’s both about what passengers bring into their space, like neck pillows and headphones, and about the functionality that the seat affords, like seat adjustments, stowage pockets, footrests, PED holders, and so on.

On the one hand, Aaron Yong, the Singapore-based design partner at LIFT Aero Design, tells RGN that nesting “presents a golden opportunity to explore new technologies like stowage compartments equipped with combination mood lighting/UV disinfection, as a unique selling point in the business cabin.”

But, he notes, particularly in the context of COVID-19 and the likely hygiene expectations it will set for generations of passengers, “nesting poses a challenge primarily with the cleaning and sanitisation process because it’s easy to imagine these areas being overlooked, or conversely requiring extra time to disinfect. Future solutions need to be more obvious and accessible to cleaning staff.”

Creating any kind of storage space within the aircraft has always been challenging for designers, of course. Jokes about what you might find in seatback pockets abound, the number of items left on board is staggering, and if not adequately engineered (or refitted) for modern electronics it can even cause a safety hazard as battery-powered devices slip into mechanisms and are crushed.

“In the larger storage compartments we create in premium seating,” Ben Orson says, “large internal radii, open or shallow spaces that allow a hand to get inside for cleaning, minimising split lines, using antimicrobial/antiviral materials and selecting smooth, wipe clean surface finishes are all measures that have even more value post COVID.”

That wipe-clean element is crucial. Visible cleanliness is a non-negotiable during a pandemic, since if cleaning crews are missing what’s in plain sight, passengers will very reasonably wonder what they are missing that is not visible.

It’s therefore increasingly important to design cabin elements that are both functional and easy to keep clean. One example is the athleisure-inspired coathook loop on the new Airtek monocoque seat, designed by interiors stalwart JPA.

The Airtek coat hook is an example of clean design, allowing nesting with minimal impact. Image: JPA

James Park, the founder and principal of JPA Design, explains that it “enables a passenger’s jacket, coat or personal item to be hung without any internal cavities where dirt and germs can hide from cleaning.

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He continues, “As more UV treatments and sanitising mist applications are used in cleaning applications, open clutter free storage solutions are [an] increasing imperative.”

From another angle, the nesting trend may well result in smaller, more divided cabins, perhaps with individual airflow zones, along the lines of the physical dividers seen in many locations on the ground like shops and restaurants.

“We think the future of ‘nesting’ will be about dividing the cabin space into smaller, more cosy zones that have the potential to reduce the spread of coronaviruses,” says London-based design agency Tangerine’s chief creative officer Matt Round. “With the advent of COVID-19, the trend of providing specialised closed storage compartments for individual items may slow down or be abandoned in favour of more open spaces and surfaces that can be thoroughly cleaned.”

Designers are experimenting with cabin concepts to separate spaces into smaller _nested_ zones. Image: Tangerine

Fundamentally, there is a dichotomy between the desire to unpack belongings — which, itself, seems likely to be at a reduced level during the pandemic — and the need for clear surfaces that are easier to clean and where infectious droplets cannot find nooks and crannies to survive. Remaining or newly designed storage compartments, as a result, will need to consider design elements like antimicrobial materials, the potential for UV sterilisation, reduced join lines, and drop-through functionality for liquids and aerosols.

But, even today, says Jean-Christophe Gaudeau, vice president of marketing at Safran Seats, “it is still early to really tell what will be the long lasting COVID-19 impact on what was indeed a growing trend prior to COVID… a trend that we recognise and was highly reflected in our latest seat designs incorporating an increasing number of stowages.”

“Our observations at this point in time,” Gaudeau concludes, “[are] that the passenger need that was fuelling this trend remains and airlines will still want to address this need in the seat design that they offer to their passengers.”

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