There’s a reason that, while you see James Bond drinking cocktails at a bar in first class at the movies, when you hop on a flight even the first-class cabin looks like a collection of smashed La-Z-Boys. Airlines have been crunching more people onto planes to keep their profits high and ticket prices relatively low. And James Bond? He’s pretty much just marketing . . . when he’s not keeping travelers up with his noise.
But Airbus wants to buck this trend, as first reported by Skift. A year ago, the French company opened a Silicon Valley design studio called A3 with the goal of outpacing Airbus to the future so its competitors don’t. In the time since, A3 came up with a radical idea in commercial airplane design. Called Transpose, the concept allows modular cabins to be swapped in and out of the plane between flights. So rather than your standard first class, business class, and coach cabin, Airbus might install a yoga studio for premium flights out of L.A., or a jungle gym on flights filled with kids on the way to Disneyworld. Coffee shops. Desks. Beds. It’s all fair game.
Airbus’s vision means that once-permanent fixtures like sky bars or shops, which might only make sense for certain flights where capacity wasn’t a chief concern, wouldn’t be taking up valuable real estate for all of the flights where capacity was a priority. Aside from these new renderings of the idea, you can see musings of this modular way of thinking all the way back in a patent Airbus filed in 2013.
How could Airbus even build such a plane? It wouldn’t start from scratch. Instead, it would model it after its cargo plane version of the A330. Cargo planes feature oversized side doors that allow large parcels to be moved in and out. Instead of swapping cargo between flights, Transpose would simply bring aboard whole new interior modules filled with posh amenities.
The core idea seems sound, but the details are scant, and the design hurdles are many. Among other issues, A3 needs to figure out how to handle ever-shifting weight and load balance, from both interior design fixtures and people moving around the cabin differently than in your average plane. And even if these issues can be overcome, Airbus would need to sell airlines on both a new plane for their fleets, and the very business plan of making a less human-dense flight just as lucrative as our sardine can alternative. Yet that’s what Airbus’s A3 studio was designed to do—question the status quo of air travel design with Silicon Valley sensibility.
Even if the Airbus’s modular plane never makes it out of the hangar, I think we all long for a better future of travel when we look at concepts like Transpose. Flying right now stinks. And it would be wonderful if our journeys could be as much fun as our destinations.