Noise reduction for passengers' comfort in transport industry is now an important constraint to be taken into account during the design process. This process involves to study several configurations of the structures immersed in a given acoustic cavity in the context of an optimization, uncertainty, or reliability study for instance. The finite element method may be used to model this coupled fluid–structure problem but needs an interface conforming mesh for each studied configuration that may become time consuming. This work aims at avoiding this remeshing step by using noncompatible meshes between the fluid and the structures. The immersed structures are supposed to be thin shells and are localized in the fluid domain by a signed distance level-set. To take into account the pressure discontinuity from one side of the structures to the other one, the fluid pressure approximation is enriched according to the structures positions by a Heaviside function using a partition of unity strategy (extended finite element method). The same fluid mesh of the empty cavity is then used during the whole parametric study. The method is implemented for a three-dimensional fluid and tested on academic examples before being applied to an industrial-like case. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.