It’s no secret that airlines are constantly pressured to come up with new efficiencies to make their business, well, fly. With an average profit of only $8.27 per passenger, squeezing more and more of us into their cabins is a sound strategy. The corollary is passenger comfort has become a secondary consideration – unless you pay for upgraded classes, of course. There are plenty of engineers and designers working to develop solutions and configurations to address this problem, some better than others. Here are a handful of concepts that have been patented, proposed or whimsically dreamed up, ranging from the dystopian torture chamber to the space-age cool.
1. The Saddle Seat
In an effort to cram even more bodies into the flying tube, Airbus has filed a patent on this no-frills semi-squat saddle seat design with a forward-foldable backrest. It gives new meaning to the term “cattle class.” It’s more of a leaning platform than a sit-down seat, really. There’s no headrest, limited back support, and some weight would be on your feet at all times. Clearly their goal wasn’t comfort. In fact, in their own words they were shooting to make it merely “tolerable” on short flights.
2. Make New Friends With This Hexagon Configuration
This proposed arrangement from Zodiac Seats France may indeed be space-efficient, but it’s a nightmare for those of us who like a modicum of privacy while flying. These seats are arranged like interlocking Tetris blocks of alternating forward and backward facing seats. Yes, the middle seat is turned around 180 degrees to “increase cabin density” (code for “squish more of us in there”). Granted, this configuration seems to provide a bit more shoulder room, but the nightmarish result is having a seatmate literally in your face. It might be okay if you’re traveling with friends or family, but who wants that kind of awkward eye contact with a random stranger?
3. Stack ‘Em Up
Another one of Airbus’ creative yet please-don’t-let-them-actually-do-this patents is this double-decker seating arrangement. Kudos for being innovative and thinking out-of-the-box. If you can’t pack any more sardines in side-by-side, you might as well look up for a solution. But do we really want strangers feet perched in our faces?
4. Even a Name Like SkyRider Can’t Sell This Seat
It may have a sexy brand name worthy of a theme park attraction, but nobody wants to ride in the sky like this. Akin to the aforementioned semi-stand-up saddle seat, this proposed overlapping arrangement by Italian design firm Aviointeriors Group has managed to shave off 7 inches from the average 30 inches of legroom. Passengers are required to sit at an angle bearing some weight on their feet. “We feel extremely confident that this concept will … have great appeal to airlines for economic purposes,” said Dominique Menoud, the company’s director general. For one to three hour flights, the SkyRider seats are “designed and engineered to offer the possibility to even further reduce ticket prices while still maintaining sound profitability”. Yeah, passenger comfort is clearly not top of mind here.
5. The Flying Donut
Hats off for attempting to rethink the standard fuselage shape we’ve been going with since the dawn of aviation. Instead of the standard tube-shaped airplane with a tail and wings, why not a flying donut? Airbus has the patent on it, and most aeronautical engineers say the concept has merit. Its modified wings flow back from the nose and essentially become both the fuselage and the tail. And yes, there’s a hole in the middle of the circular passenger cabin. They propose concentric rings of passengers according to class, with the inner circle being business class (naturally) and economy on the outer rim. Of course, it may take some convincing for passengers to forgo windows, which we’ve all grown so accustomed to on flights. Boarding and deplaning procedures might need a rethink, too. But on the plus side, there would be more cabin space for passengers, improved cabin pressure distribution and it would make for a more economical and efficient flight. Who knows, something like this could hit the skies at some point.
6. Virtual Reality Helmet
This one’s not really a new-fangled seating arrangement, but it is an innovation that might make the windowless donut or any number of unpleasant seating scenarios more tolerable. It looks like something from a Sci-Fi film, but this sensory cocoon isolation helmet could very well be the answer to a litany of inflight complaints. It would drown out the noise of crying babies or chatty grown-ups, eliminate odors from your seatmate’s pastrami sandwich, and provide immersive entertainment much better than what we’ve got now. They’ve even included mini-airbags in case of extreme turbulence.
7. Someone Came Up With a Way to Squeeze in 11 Seats Per Row
That person is obviously a sadist. We know the more they pack in the more economical it is, but putting seats this close together is an abomination. However, Airbus is actually working on this for the economy section of their A380 superjumbo, and apparently it’s set to be a reality in 2017. Prepare to get cozy rubbing thighs with your neighbor. Squeezing a few inches out of each seat frees up room for a fifth seat in the middle section. Never mind that the window seat is actually flush to the wall, you’re essentially sitting on it.
— John Walton (@thatjohn) April 14, 2015
8. Now Here’s A Futuristic Seating Arrangement We Approve Of
We like the thinking behind these single seat pods by Factorydesign, even if they are stacked on top of each other. They call the prototype “Air Lair,” which sounds like a cozy place to slink into and while away the hours in the sky. The seats are moveable so you can sit upright or lie down flat, giving you 30 percent more room than on conventional seats. These cocoons even have customizable mood lighting, personal iPod docks and a projector that can beam films onto an overhead screen so you can watch movies while chilling on your back. It’s a great use of space, especially for those of us who value privacy. Sadly, this is just a concept and there are no plans to actually install these groovy pods in any planes soon.
9. This is Spinal Twist
Here’s a innovation that might save us all some aches and pains. London-based Factorydesign have created a prototype of the Twister seat, which mimics the varied movements of the human spine. Designer Adam White got the idea after enduring an uncomfortable 14-hour flight. Allowing the airplane seat to flex and pivot with the body prevents pressure points from building up. The seat has a central spine with vertical ribs shooting out from it, allowing for subtle movement as the body shifts during the flight. It may even help eliminate the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis, which can be a problem on long haul flights.
10. Flex-Seat Has Possibilities
These patent pending multi-level habitats from Jacob-Innovations seem like a fine idea. They pitch it as “Cost Effective Reclining Accommodations for Airlines.” They seem ideal for long flights where you might want some sit-up time and some shut-eye too. They claim it increases the density of the average Business Class seating by 50 per cent, and they can also be converted for an economy class configuration. Time will tell if this, or something like it, will become a reality.
11. We Can’t Wait for This to Become a Reality
U.S. aerospace technology company Windspeed has patented an amazing rooftop SkyDeck, letting you sit in a glass teardrop-shaped aerodynamic dome on top of the plane for a 360 degree panoramic view. This one’s not about jamming more paying passengers into the fuselage, but more about the bespoke experience of being one with the clouds. You get a better view inside this transparent canopy than what the pilots get in the cockpit. Who needs seatback entertainment when you’ve got vistas like this (unless, of course, you have a fear of flying – then it might be terrifying).