Dubai Airshow

Strange airplane ideas that are yet to take off


There's something about air travel that inspires flights-of-fancy in airline and aerospace executives — but their ideas sometimes fail to get off the ground. Standing-only passenger tickets, pay-to-use toilets and planes shaped like flying saucers are some of the inspirations yet to make it to an airport near you.

‘Flying’ bunk beds

Source: Airbus/US Patent and Trademark Office

Airbus has filed a number of unusual patents for passenger seating and this one from last month was no exception. The blueprint details several designs for split-level seating that would allow two levels of passengers to be slotted into the same cabin. The mezzanine level would be reached by a ladder or steps and the seats could be reclined to a lie-flat position, creating glorified bunk beds.

Standing-only flights

Ryanair founder, Michael O'Leary, is full of ruses for cutting costs on his ultra-budget airline. His ideas — many of which never come to fruition — have earned the airline plenty of free publicity, as well as criticism from safety regulators.

One such was his ploy in 2010 to sell standing-only tickets in order to fit extra passengers onto flights. Under the scheme, the last 10 rows of seats in a plane would be replaced by 15 rows of "vertical seating," according to media reports.

O'Leary's bid to start testing standing-only flights was rejected by regulators, but keeping passengers on their feet continues to appeal to cost-cutting airlines. In February this year, it was reported that Chinese budget airline, Spring Airlines, was seeking regulators' permission to install standing-only "seats."

Pay-what-you weigh

This idea has actually taken flight, but only with Samoa Air, a small carrier that transports passengers between the Samoan islands of the Pacific. As of 2013, the airline charges a base fare depending on the route, multiplied by the total weight of a passenger plus their luggage.

Despite global press coverage when the new fare model was announced, other airlines are yet to adopt the "fat tax."

Face-to-face seats

This idea from airplane supplier, Zodiac Seats, would see passengers eyeball each other in the hope of cramming more travelers into cabins. The patent, which was filed in July this year, shows passengers sitting on hexagonal seats facing their neighbors. They could gain more space for their shoulders and arms, but face the prospect of a face-to-face conversation with a nervous or voluble co-traveler.

Flying saucers

Credit: espacenet

The "flying saucer" plane was another brainchild of Airbus that it looked to patent a year ago. Shaped like a donut or cinematic space craft, the new plane would supposedly limit the strain of cabin pressurization and offer space for more passengers, who would sit in a circle in a 360 degree cabin.

There are no lines of flying saucers in airports just yet — nor airplanes containing bicycle seats in economy class, nor passengers in virtual reality helmets, which are two other ideas patented by Airbus.

Paying for toilet trips

Paying a pound to spend a penny? That was an inspired idea from Ryanair's O'Leary in 2010. He touted the prospect of charging £1 ($1.50) for coin-operated toilets on flights, "incentivizing" passengers to visit the toilet pre-boarding.

The plan was dropped in 2013, when O'Leary came up with another revenue-driving idea — carrying advertising for other companies on the exteriors of Ryanair planes. This idea was actually adopted and is still offered by Ryanair.

— By CNBC's Katy Barnato. Follow her on Twitter @KatyBarnato.