Coming to an airplane near you: Reclining seats in economy, urinals and sleep in suites

Coming to an airplane near you: Reclining seats in economy, urinals and sleep in suites
PHOTO: Airbus

In addition to ticket prices and schedules, airlines compete for customers with promises of more comfortable seats, gourmet food, the latest in-flight movies, lots of legroom and other cabin amenities.

Many of the most coveted conveniences - like lie-flat beds, chef-made meals and personal mini-bars - are reserved for business and first class travellers. Yet economy flyers definitely benefit from some of the innovations vying for this year's Crystal Cabin Awards, which are set to be announced April 10

Often described as "the Oscars of the aviation industry," CNBC reviewed the list of 24 finalists in search of the designs and innovations that were the most unusual and passenger-friendly. Some are already flying, while others are just about ready to launch.

Singapore Airlines first-class suites in the sky

Photo: Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines launched a new first-class suite product for its Airbus A380-800 in December 2017, making a splash with its first major cabin revamp in about a decade.

The six privates suites (down from 12) have adjustable mood lighting (with settings that can be saved for a future flight), window blinds, and a sliding door for privacy. They each have a 32 inch HD monitor bed, and a separate leather lounge chair that both reclines and swivels.

As a bonus, 2 people travelling together can book adjoining suites, and lower a centre wall to turn the single beds into a true double bed, or create an even larger space for travel.

Qantas Qsuite: Double beds … in business class

Photo: Priestman Goode

Qatar Airways upped the ante for business travel with its Qsuite, the first to offer business cabin passengers the option of lowering a partition to create a double bed. The Qsuites also offer a quad configuration that allows groups travelling together to combine suites, to create a larger private space where they can work, dine and hang out.

Go with the flow

Photo: Zodiac Aerospace

Sometimes, the lavatory-to-passenger ratio in the economy cabin on airplanes never seems quite right. And when restrooms get busy, they can also get messy.

Enter the Durinal, which cuts down on traffic by replacing one regular 60"x30" lavatory with two urinals. Creator Zodiac Aerospace says installing the toilets on planes can improve lavatory "cycle time" and cut down on male use of conventional toilets, "Thus leaving them more hygienic for the ladies."

Sleep tight

Photo: Rockwell Collins

As comfortable as they can be, fully lie-flat business seats on airplanes make concessions in order to provide a seat that can transform into a bed. Rockwell Collins' Valkyrie Bed addresses that problem, with a comfortable seat that folds away to make room for a full-size mattress that comes out of the console.

Taking a better nap in economy

Photo: Zodiac Aerospace

Airlines are getting better at filling all the seats in the economy class cabin, but when seats are empty, it's nice to be able to stretch out.

Zodiac Aerospace's new Eco Zlounge concept makes that option a bit easier and more comfortable (and, no doubt, eligible for an upgrade). It has a mechanism that allows the seat cushion in front of a passenger to fold down, so there's room to for a passenger to recline more fully.

3D viewing, sans glasses

Photo: United Screens Group

Some airlines have removed seat-back screens, in favour of having passengers view in-flight entertainment on the small screens on their laptops and other devices. Other carriers have focused on offering passengers larger screens and high definition viewing.

For the latter, there's a new glasses-free system for watching 3D content on planes. "Pop-out and depth effects emerge from the screen in unparalleled brightness and sharpness," says system creator United Screens Group, but "without the alignment and distortion issues that had been associated with glasses-free 3D until now."

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