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Airbus

Tall Passengers May Automatically Get More Legroom in Airbus’ Smart Cabins

Tall Passengers May Automatically Get More Legroom in Airbus’ Smart Cabins
Jeff Edwards

Airbus is moving forward with plans for an “internet of things” connected aircraft cabin. The Airbus Connected Experience is flying from the drawing board with new partnership agreements to create and produce components for the new “smart” cabin which will offer real-time automated details about what is happening onboard.

Airbus is moving at full speed to launch its “internet of things” powered smart cabin concept. The “Airbus Connected Experience” moved from concept to production in April and engineers have already started flight testing prototypes. The European aviation giant’s rush to get the next generation of high-tech aircraft cabin to market is indicative of airlines’ increasing reliance on data to cut costs and predict operation issues, but the sometimes intrusive technology is also raising privacy concerns.

“As airlines drive to improve operational efficiencies and reliability, they can now look to the Connected Experience, offered by Airbus together with our industrial partners, to link different elements of the cabin, seats, galleys, and trolleys into one central data system,” Airbus SeniorVP Soeren Scholz explained earlier this year. “This seamless inter-connectivity within the cabin will also be of tremendous benefit to passengers who will be able to enjoy individually tailored, personalized and high-quality inflight service.”

The high-tech cabin designs have some obvious benefits to passengers. Smart overhead bins automatically let flyers know at a glance where there is free space for their personal items. At beverage service time, frequent flyers might find cabin crew members acting more like a well-acquainted bartender and simply asking “the usual?” (information about your favorite cocktail will be available to crew members at the touch of a screen). Taller passengers could even find themselves automatically reassigned to more appropriate seats with a bit more legroom.

That isn’t to say that the dawn of the smart cabin doesn’t have some Big Brother-esque features as well. While the platform will monitor and report the inventory of onboard supplies (including critical emergency equipment) minute-by-minute, the Airbus Connected Experience offers the same ability when it comes to tracking the habits of passengers.

Bloomberg’s Justin Bach reports this week on a number of troubling features of the new high-tech smart cabin. While the Airbus Connected Experience will have lavatory sensors that can let cabin crew members know if the toilets are out of service, toilet paper is running low or the soap dispenser needs to be refilled, the technology can also report how much time individual passengers spend in the lavatory, how often they visit and when. Sensors that let flight attendants know if passengers’ safety belts are buckled and which seats are reclined will save time during pre-landing safety checks, but could also provide an uncomfortable amount of information about how an air traveler spent the journey.

The Airbus plans for the future almost make privacy concerns over the tiny seatback cameras in IFE systems seem downright quaint. Of course, the Airbus Connected Experience includes the ability to integrate the cameras as part of the platform. Airline industry trade group, Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX), has already suggested that member airlines take advantage of the emerging onboard technologies for everything from keeping track of passenger preferences, allowing authorities to keep tabs on suspicious travelers, monitoring customers’ health to data mining frequent flyer habits. Welcome to the future.

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1 Comment

  1. sdsearch

    September 14, 2019 at 8:39 am

    I doubt the headlined feature will work very often. On a packed plane, will they really force a shorter passenger into a worse seat just to allow a taller passenger into a better seat? This whole concept seems to assume that there are empty seats to move passengers around, but on many planes today there aren’t.

    Plus, are airlines going to give up charging more for extra legroom seats? Or will this really be just a “do you want to pay for extra legroom” prompt rather than a free offer to move to an extra legroom seat?

    The devil is in the details, as they say.

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