New technology on planes could create "air curtains" around passengers to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19.
Design and innovation firm Teague says its AirShield can clip over the dials of the air conditioning units above seats to "adapt aircraft cabin airflow to prevent the spread of viruses".
It claims to keep coughs and sneezes within the confines of a single passenger before removing them via the plane's air filtration system.
The Seattle-based company says the AirShield can be 3D-printed, retrofitted to existing aircraft and will help restore consumer confidence in air travel as airlines begin to resume flights for the first time since the pandemic lockdown.
"By utilising the airflow from the existing overhead air-gaspers, AirShield transforms freshly purified air into engineered 'air-blades' capable of controlling the spread of droplets much more effectively – offering passengers and crew improved protection and peace of mind," Teague explained.
"As a result, when a passenger breathes, coughs, or sneezes, the water vapor droplets are contained within that passenger's space and immediately re-directed downwards and out of the cabin to the HEPA filtration units, before they have the opportunity to enter the personal space of a neighboring passenger."
Teague described the protection as an "air curtain" or "air barrier".
Anthony Harcup, who helped invent the AirShield at Teague, said controlling airflow, not distance between passengers, was the key to reducing the risk of infection in the air.
"By engineering the cabin airflow to manage each individual's exhalations, passengers can have far greater peace of mind when seated nearby," he said
"For many airlines, it is simply not commercially viable to reconfigure entire cabins to adhere to social distancing measures – especially in economy class where passenger density is at its highest."
Airlines have roundly rejected the idea of social distancing on aircraft, warning that it would force the cost of tickets up if they had to fly with reduced capacity. Instead the industry has reminded passengers of the high-tech air filters it has on the majority of aircraft that help clean the atmosphere on planes.
This week EasyJet returned to the skies, with more than 310 services relaunching this week. It says of its HEPA filters: "EasyJet's aircraft are already fitted with state of art filtration technology. High efficiency particle arresting filters (HEPA) filter 99.97 per cent of airborne contaminants in the cabin, including viruses and bacteria.
"These filters are the same as those used in hospitals and through these the cabin air gets replaced every three to four minutes."
The Telegraph, London