It may be too ambitious to elevate lowly airplane meals to the heights of gastronomy, but it is possible to rethink the fusty food carts that ferry them. As part of her graduate work at Staffordshire University, product designer Heather Dunne came up with an innovative concept to solve a ubiquitous problem on commercial aircrafts: immobility.
With a slimmer and more ergonomic design, Dunne's Orbit "commercial aircraft food delivery system" conserves space, making it easier for flight attendants to maneuver their carts up and down the aisle and passengers to move freely throughout the cabin during meal service -- a boon for those requiring frequent bathroom breaks.
The idea, Dunne says, was sparked by a flight to Spain where she observed firsthand the inherent limitations with today's airplane food carts. "The main problem was the width of economy seating. Passengers on the aisle seats had elbows and legs outstretched in the aisle, making it hard for the large trolley to move past without disrupting them," she explained to SmartPlanet in an e-mail. "Passengers were unable to get past the food trolley without a lot of hassle."
Dunne began by poring over airplane design plans and researching galley manufacturers. The most useful fodder for her work came from in-depth discussions with cabin crew members through dedicated forums. "They highlighted a lot of problems with the current trolleys that helped me to develop the project," she said.
One recurring grievance? Capacity. Current carts can only carry 35 to 40 packaged meals at a time, forcing flight attendants to make frequent trips to the galley to restock which, consequently, increases service wait time. Orbit's longer form increases its storage capacity to 60 meals, which would require far less back and forth.
But the benefits of the design go well beyond form to tackle function. Dunne has included a pressurized shelf system so that as meals are removed from the top layer of shelves, those underneath slide up and allow the cabin crew to serve passengers without bending down -- a feature that would streamline the process, improving working conditions for flight attendants.
Leaving no element unconsidered, Dunne designed Orbit to secure into grooves in the aisles, allowing it to automatically lock in place as a safeguard during periods of turbulence.
The designer's well-imagined concept addresses one of the biggest blights in current aircraft design and has the potential to revolutionize the in-flight experience.
So how soon might we see Orbit on future flights? Not quite yet. The designer has yet to approach any airlines with the idea, given its infancy. One thing is certain, however: to accommodate her design, current planes would need to install a track within aisles and entirely modify the galley’s layout -- a highly unlikely hurdle to a retrofit. But newly commissioned aircraft? That's another story.
Determined to launch Orbit into air, Dunne hopes to glean advice from industry professionals to get her design on track to adoption. Until then, keep your elbows in close.