I've said it before and I'll say it again, Jennifer Coutts Clay is like the Nostradamus of cabin interiors. On page 68 of her book, Jetliner Cabins, Clay predicted that cabin window shades of tomorrow might well be electric-powered.
"At the touch of a button, passengers will be able to choose how much outside light they would like to let in - all, or none, or various amounts in between," she wrote. "And this system will permit airlines to customize their aircraft interiors in ways that were previously not possible."
The book was first published in 2003. Fast-forward to today and a company called Aerospace Technologies Group is providing electro-mechanical shades to the world's top-tier carriers.
Qantas was the first carrier to launch the shades on a brand new aircraft, its Airbus A380s. But other carriers are quickly bringing the mechanism onboard (I'm just not at liberty to tell you who, yet).
Passengers can control the shades adjacent to their particular seat from a single switch as well as a switch mounted on the sidewall. All shades in the cabin are also controlled from the Flight Attendant Panel [FAP] and can be locked in the full open position for takeoff and landing.
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most powerful. "Many people do not realize that the aircraft window-shades we are all accustomed to seeing i.e. those plain surfaces with manual pull-down handles, have been operating in the same old way for decades! The new-style electric-powered window-shades...now flying on Qantas Airbus A380 aircraft, represent a major advance," says Clay.
"Eventually manually operated pull-down window-shades will be classed as old-fashioned."
The new technology of today might lead to further developments on this front. "Because the new electric-powered window-shades are protected from personal impact or touching, airline designers will safely be able to use the surfaces to display decorative patterns such as: clouds, palm trees, sombreros, flags etc., or airline corporate identity emblems, or revenue-generating advertising information," she says.
"Or, between the 'window-panes', might it be possible to install several drop-down window-shade surfaces, as used for back-cloths at theatres, that could be controlled automatically, or by cabin crew, to display an organized sequence of design displays?"
In recent years we have seen advertising material on everything from aircraft menu covers and meal-tray liners, to paper cocktail napkins, motion sickness bags, and the lids of overhead stowage bins. Heck, Spirit Airlines is selling advertisements on its napkins, drink carts, lavatories, rugs and flight attendant aprons.
Says Clay: "Next on the list? Why not electric-powered window-shades?"
Such an idea might not be on ATG's drawing board just yet. "Bottom line, to change the colour, one must change the shade," says Ford Chown, a consultant that works with ATG.
But with cash-strapped carriers now feverish to bring in new revenue streams, I wouldn't count it out.
(Photos courtesy of ATG)