The future of air travel – are you sitting comfortably?
February 1, 2011
We've come a long way from the early days of aviation. Aircraft cabins used to have more in common with our living rooms; seats were over-stuffed armchairs you could push around, and in-flight entertainment was a game of backgammon or bridge. It's tempting sometimes to wish for a return to those days – now it's more about either squeezing more people in, or providing a more comfortable experience only for those who can afford it. In this article, we're going to take a look at some new cushy options for your tush, and some others that seem quite outlandish ...
The buzzword for airlines these days is “intelligent aircraft seating,” which allows for greater efficiency and profitability. Lightweight seating reduces carbon consumption, allowing for greater flying range and more passengers. Lucky for us, airlines must also apply themselves to the issues of ergonomics, comfort, ambiance and entertainment – provision of which play a big part in convincing you to fork over your hard-earned cash. In today's competitive market, brand-loyal, happy customers look fresh-faced and well-rested.
Aviointeriors Sky Rider
Let's stick with red-eyes and crumpled suits for a minute, beginning with a seat that has been creating turbulence in the low-cost airline arena – the Sky Rider. Nicknamed the “saddle seat”, cattle-class passengers (apply liberal irony here) are semi-standing in a position likened to riding a horse, with a person's weight carried by their legs. Designed by Italian firm Aviointeriors, it is designed to reduce individual seat spacing by 25 percent, allowing 40 percent more passengers on flights under three hours. Thankfully, we are spared the prospect of overcoming our skepticism to ride this gawky-looking contraption. It is unlikely ever to get safety and licensing approval, as seating must be able to withstand a g-force of 16, and consequent reinforcements would make the aircraft too heavy.
In fact, the whole suggestion may simply have been a publicity stunt by UK budget airline Ryanair, as a follow-up to the “pay-to-pee” furore. Also, since Ryanair uses the 189-passenger Boeing 737-800, it would seem churlish to cram everyone into half the plane, unless perhaps they are planning to install a dancefloor, or some performing clowns ... ? We'll continue to watch Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary with bemused interest.
Brice Seating's B3100 Featherweight Super Light seats
Moving on then, let's look at something more comfortable. Few people, besides chiropractors, would advocate the straight-backed take-off position of most seats in economy class, and enduring several hours of this neck-cricking torture is enough to make people switch airlines. But Brice Seating's new “pre-reclined” B3100 Featherweight Super Light seats have been installed on Spirit Airlines' new Airbus A320s and feedback so far is good. The seats don't move, but the standard position is at a more comfortable angle. Static seating means less moving parts, less maintenance, fewer delays, and no irritating fellow passengers unexpectedly jerking your tray. Lighter seats means greater fuel efficiency, and reduced costs – all of which adds up to a happier customer.
Thomson Solutions Cozy Suite
Another deceptively simple-yet-effective solution to red-eyed insomnia is the Thomson Solutions Cozy Suite. This rigid-backed seat allows each passenger a private space whilst still allowing for comfortable conversation. It also offers a reclined seat, a head-rest for snoozing, and the other holy grail of flying – no awkward arm-rest wars with your neighbor! Considering this staggered seat configuration also allows for 15 percent extra passenger capacity, we're not sure why it hasn't yet been picked up by an airline, but we look forward to catching some zeds in that nook sometime soon.
Air New Zealand's Cuddle Class: the Sky Couch and Space Seating
Rated as a four-star airline by the Skytrax airline review site, Air New Zealand is really taking to the skies with some new comfort innovations that give people what they want: sleep! We wrote about their new “Sky Couch” last year; a devilishly simple idea for converting seat leg-rests into a lying space, in twenty rows of three seats on their Boeing 77-300s. A couple wishing to buy a row of three seats would pay a standard price for two, with the third seat half price.
Now, Air New Zealand has also introduced the “Space Seat” to their growing “Cuddle-Class” premium economy seating. It's a double seat angling slightly outwards that allows reclining in both a forward and angled motion, designed not to affect the person behind. Sleepy couples can lie down one-at-at-time, and at meal times can dine as in a restaurant at a shared table facing one another. Fifty Space Seats will be available on the Boeing 77-300 as of April this year. Another seat touted for release about now is Delta's new business elite lie-flat, which is already available on some business routes.
Jacob Innovation's Flex Seat
Another of our previously-covered and eagerly-awaited concept designs is the Flex Seat. Designed by Jacob Innovations, the design makes use of under-utilized vertical cabin space. Economy-class seats are alternately raised and lowered, allowing seats behind and below more leg-room. This results in a series of reclined seats like sun-loungers, and not entirely unlike a design we covered back in 2008 by Mexican designer Mario Martinez Celis in the Create the Future Design Contest. Jacob Innovation's design also gives business-class passengers a ground floor or mezzanine to themselves, with a seat at one end and a space to lie down beside, while first class passengers get both ground floor and mezzanine, to sleep, sit and work in.
Design Q and BAE Systems – Max Cabins and Avro Business Jet Explorers
Finally, another cattle-class innovation from creative firm Design Q would have us sit facing each other on flip-down seats in "Max Cabins" for flights from 30-80 minutes, but given the safety and licensing restrictions outlined with Saddle Seating, it seems unlikely that this will get off the ground either. However, the company has been working with BAE Systems on some rather splendid luxury cabins and concepts for the discerning (read: minted beyond your wildest dreams) passenger. Think private planes with viewing decks; sipping cocktails overlooking an African savanna. Think opulence befitting of James Bond ...
But for now, it's back to reality. What seat would be a treat? What recliner makes you whine? And for what settee would you settle?
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