Sometimes air travel is so cramped that we grumble that they might as well put passengers in the cargo hold. It seems that Airbus has heard this and plans to do so – in a good way. In partnership with Zodiac Aerospace, Airbus is developing a modular system that will allow airlines to change their cargo bays into sleeper compartments for long-haul flights, complete with spacious bunks and other amenities.
If you look at old adverts for air travel from the 1940s and '50s, you may have come across interior views of the old China Clippers and Stratoliners with their lower decks containing Pullman-style sleeping accommodations, lounges, and even piano bars. Despite many efforts to revive these bits of gracious living in the skies, the jet age has ended up with amenities that often leave a lot to be desired – especially on long overseas flights when even the most palatial first class seat can seem like a convict transport cell after 14 hours.
Airbus and Zodiac are developing a modular system that by 2020 will allow airlines operating the Airbus A330 and, one day, the Airbus A350 XWB to change surplus cargo bays into sleeping accommodations. That may sound like you're going to be bunking with the pet crates, but the idea is a much more attractive. Long haul airliners already have surprisingly spacious crew accommodations tucked away below decks or in odd corners of the airframe that the paying customers are never aware off. This simply takes the idea one step further.
The partners haven't released too many details, but Airbus says that the modules will fit inside existing cargo compartments, can be swapped out easily, and will not interfere with normal cargo operations. In addition, Airbus has released a photo of the sleeping module mock up and concept drawings of modules that contain child play areas, a medical bay, a lounge, and a conference room complete with wraparound wall screens.