Passports have been laid aside, briefcases unpacked, holiday attire stored away: the COVID-19 crisis has greatly shifted society’s perspective as to what qualifies as ‘essential’ travel. For example: 42 per cent of 511 epidemiologists surveyed by The New York Times revealed that it will be three to 12 months before they feel comfortable travelling by plane again; 21 per cent will not make that first venture for over a year. Even fewer are confident about getting onto a subway or bus, with 39 per cent planning to wait one-plus year.

Those numbers reflect the sense of overarching insecurity that so many have about spending time in transportation spaces, some avoiding shared transit altogether by investing in a bicycle or a personal vehicle. Others are already hankering to be en route once more, unsatisfied by Zoom meetings or the promise of a stay-cation. Is there a way they might be able to travel safely, even without a vaccine in sight? Designers around the globe have been spending these last few months strategizing how to make this happen, drawing up plans for virus-free air cabins, distanced tram cars and the like.

Below, we share six concepts that aim to address the necessary safety regulations brought about by the pandemic so that travellers can be on the road – or in the sky – again.




With Factorydesign’s Isolate Kit, the middle seat of each row in a plane is transformed into a ‘reassuring’ screen which allocates a maximum of personal space to passengers. A lightweight table-top supports the vertical screen, made from a translucent thermoplastic which ‘allows light to pass through’, maintaining an ‘airy cabin’. The whole feature is secured on the armrests, and belted into position.




How will we fly safely again? Aviointeriors sought to address this question with Glassafe, a concept which installs an isolated volume around the head and shoulders of a plane passenger, ensuring separation between others in the same row. Crafted from transparent material, these easy-to-clean ‘bubbles’ are designed for retrofit into existing cabins – in narrow and wide-body aircraft – and are able to be quickly implemented and removed.



Perkins and Will, Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects and Arup Group

Global design firms Perkins and Will, Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects and Arup Group show the power of collaboration with their COVID-19 Mobile Testing Lab, developed to ‘bring testing to vulnerable communities worldwide’. The plan is intended to convert out-of-use school buses into testing labs – a ‘scalable, quick, inexpensive and easily replicated’ option that can ideally be implemented no matter the location.




Passenger capacity on railways has dropped to as low as 10 per cent in some cases due to social distancing requirements. To aid operators, PriestmanGoode identified a means of increasing capacity on commuter trains by 15 to 20 per cent. Originally part of the Tomorrow’s Train Design Today challenge funded by RSSB, PriestmanGoode’s Island Bay seats have been adapted to use for storing bicycles. The modification ‘makes better use of blocked-off seating on commuter trains, and also addresses the concerns commuters may have about their onward journeys either on underground or bus services’.



Arturo Tedeschi

Passerella is a new futuristic tram design for the city of Milan by Arturo Tedeschi. Within, dynamic displays clearly relay information to passengers and plexiglass shields between seats serve to protect against virus transmission. The flooring design indicates where people should stand to maintain a safe distance. ‘The interior is conceived as a fashion set where the corridor is turned into a runway (or passerella), surrounded by high-end materials and enveloping geometries,’ says Tedeschi.



Nils Jünke and Johannes Müller for KH-Berlin

Hoping to find a solution to help people maintain distance on public transportation, student-designers Nils Jünke and Johannes Müller came up with Firefly. The KH-Berlin project creates a smarter distribution of subway passengers over train wagons. With Firefly, waiting passengers can see the capacity of incoming trains before they arrive at the station, allowing them to identify where to safely board. The concept gets its name from small lights – or ‘fireflies’ – which function to indicate this information.

Read more of our coverage on the COVID-19 crisis' impact on design here.