Attention, airline bathroom loiterers: The next generation of Airbus aircraft will track how long you’ve been in there.
It’s all part of an effort to make commercial cabins a digitally aware domain. The program is Airbus’ bid to raise the internet of things — that buzz-phrase for connected household gadgets — to cruising altitude.
The Airbus Connected Experience aims to give flight attendants a more detailed survey of the cabin, with sensors for such critical data as when soap is running low and how much toilet paper remains in each bathroom. But the rethinking of the passenger environment doesn't just stop there.
At each seat, your belt will signal red for unbuckled and green when fastened. The goal is faster boarding and departure, dispensing with those lap-scrutinizing walk-throughs flight attendants must perform. The crew also will have access to information on what’s on board and where, like which galley carts contain specific meals, such as preorders or vegetarian selections.
"It’s not a concept, it’s not a dream: It’s reality,” Ingo Wuggetzer, Airbus’ vice president of cabin marketing, said recently at an aviation trade show in Los Angeles. Airbus has begun flight-testing the connected cabin on its A350 test aircraft and plans to introduce it on the A321 family in 2021, followed by the larger, two-aisle A350 series two years later.
As cool as all of this may seem to you, the passenger, it’s just another way for airlines to gain more revenue out of operations. While data from these various areas will be sent to flight attendants’ tablets or smartphones in real time, the analysis of that enormous trove of information over time is where the real value lies — how long is the flight attendants’ response times to a call button, which wine is more popular, what bathroom is busiest?
"You can make the service more attentive,” said Ronald Sweers, an Airbus cabin-products director. While the digital doodads are expected to simplify flight attendant workloads, their true value may lie in giving airlines more insights about what happens in the cabin.
Airbus also plans to offer airlines the option of cameras outside each lavatory to count how many passengers are waiting, a feature that may help flight attendants redirect some of that traffic on larger jets. The data also will show airlines the wait times on various flights and on different aircraft types.
More seriously, it can also alert a flight attendant that someone inside may be ill or need assistance, Wuggetzer said.
The crew also will be able to control features such as window shades and public-address volume from their mobile devices. The system will know which overhead bin spaces are open, with green lights along the cabin, much like the lighting schemes used in parking decks to signal drivers toward unoccupied spaces. That should, in theory, speed boarding, Airbus says.