Airline Seating: It’s About to Get Better

Even the middle seat. In economy. Seriously.

By The Editors
October 15, 2015 9:00 am

Last week you may have stumbled across this Airbus seating atrocity, which is apparently patent pending.

Mass hatred for the airline industry ensued. Essentially, Airbus’s new concept is just another way the airlines can jam more people into less space, comfort be damned. Theirs was particularly damning. As the Wired article cited above puts it, it was essentially people Tetris.

But good news: this, and many other ridiculous seating concepts, are unlikely to ever come to pass. That’s according to Jason Clampet, the co-founder and head of content at Skift, the de facto bible of the travel industry, which has been tracking seating concepts both good and bad for the past several years. “Airbus routinely seeks patents for all sorts of seating arrangements,” he says. “Some are genuinely clever ideas, others are moves to lay claim to arrangements so that others can’t.”

Below, a few seating concepts we actually like, plus a brief Q&A that might provide you with a little comfort.

At least more than an economy class seat.

Adaptable seats for economy class, where seat width, height and depth are all adjustable (plus: they won’t knock your knees when reclined).

The Santo Seat
Simply put, a wide, adjustable row of seats ideal for the narrow back of planes. Perfect for accommodating passengers of size or, conversely, small children.

Thompson Aero Cozy Suite
A staggered pod of seats with retracting bottoms, allowing for easier access to each row. Plus, an actual comfy middle seat — one that offers soft-surface headrests and double “s” armrests that allow both arms to repose.

The Meerkat Seat
A long-haul economy seat with a unique reclining/bag storage feature within the backrest, personal cabinets and fixed cup holders. And, best of all, a dual-user, two-level armrest that means the middle seat passenger isn’t fighting for arm space.

The Air Lair by Factorydesign
Part of the 3D seat design that imagines the cabin “more like a honeycomb as a grid.” These personal cocoons would actually allow more passengers to fit within the same area while giving each flier more privacy and an ergonomic, lay-flat seat.

More from Jason at Skift on seating:

InsideHook: It seems like a new “concept” comes out every week for airlines, for both better and worse. How many of these ever really come to fruition?

Jason Clampet: Very few. Even well-received designs, like the paperclip seat, have a long road to reality. The path from design to a passenger putting his or her butt in place is a multi-year process that involves a great deal of safety testing, not to mention product and material development. What’s different now is that since Skift has begun covering some of the better ideas, companies like Airbus are getting real-world responses to ideas and we may see them move faster.

IH: Are recent designs indicative of a future of flying where the rich get richer, and the economy classes get even more screwed?

JC: I don’t think this is any different from any other part of society, do you? We are seeing, though, creativity in the Economy Plus section on short and long-haul flights. So instead of bumping people up to business when they’re really loyal or on their honeymoon, airlines can give them three more inches of legroom and slightly more edible food.

IH: Is there any incentive for airlines to improve seating or flying for non-premium passengers?

JC: Yes indeed. As Skift’s Marisa Garcia pointed out in an article last month, economy passengers don’t make up the majority of the revenue, they make up a majority of the passengers — the punitive nature of some airlines these days is driving them to rival airlines that do a better job setting expectations.

IH: What’s the most promising design concept you’ve seen?

JC: That would have to be Thomson Aerospace’s smart middle seat concept.

IH: And the worst?

JC: Anything that makes Spirit Air executives happy.


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