Tag Archives: design

Can Airline Seats Get Even Smaller?

By Kim Smiley

Was the experience the last time you flew wonderful?  Did you enjoy all the luxurious amenities like ample elbow room, stretching out your legs, and turning around in the bathroom?  Me neither.  Comfort certainly hasn’t been the top priority as airlines have shrunk seats to cram more passengers onboard, but a new patent application by Airbus really takes things to a whole new level.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and I think that is particularly true in this case.  This is a diagram of a patent application for a proposed seat design –


I’m not sure about the rest of you, but my backside is sore just thinking about an airplane seat that bears such a strong resemble to a bicycle.

I attempted to build a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, in order to better understand how such a design could be proposed because I frankly find it mind-boggling.  The basic idea is that airlines would like to maximize profits and that putting more people on each flight allows more tickets to be sold resulting in more money made.  The average airline seat width has already decreased to about 17 inches from the 18 inches typical for a long-haul airplane seat in the 1970s and 1980s.  Compounding the impact on passengers is the fact that the average passenger has increased during that same time frame.  In general larger bodies are being put in smaller seats, not a recipe for a comfort.

I’m still having a hard time understanding how the correct answer to increasing airline profits is making seats even smaller.  I have to believe that passengers will balk at some point.  At some level of discomfort, a cheap ticket just won’t be cheap enough for me to be willing to endure a truly awful flight.  Even with electronic distractions and snacks, there has to be a point where people would just say no.

There also has to be a number of safety concerns that arise when the size of airplane seats is dramatically decreased.  Survivability in a crash is greatly influenced by seat design because airplane seats are designed to absorb energy and provide head injury protection during an accident.

Just to be clear, there is no plan to actually use this seat design anytime in the near future.  This is just a patent application.  As Airbus spokeswoman, Mary Anne Greczyn said, “Many, if not most, of these concepts will never be developed, but in case the future of commercial aviation makes one of our patents relevant, our work is protected. Right now these patent filings are simply conceptual.” But somebody somewhere still thought this was a good enough idea that it should be patented…just in case.