Passenger seat rules and regulations regarding ergonomics haven’t really changed in decades. However, as a race, human’s have continued to evolve, and we’re getting larger and taller. This means economy seats and cabins once comfortable for passengers in the 1960’s are no longer viable for today’s traveller. In fact the CDC says between 1960 and 2000, the average American was an inch taller and (alarmingly) 30 lbs heavier.
Sadly this leaves a puzzle for airlines, who are looking at longer flights than ever, but seats, and cabins limit the layout of passenger accommodations (LOPA). Airlines like Qantas are already playing around with their cabin layouts for the Project Sunrise A350-1000 aircraft, and Air New Zealand are also introducing new passenger products to respond to the needs of these Ultra-long haul cabins.
However another concept – Paradym – by Lift Aero Design could also offer a solution to the needs of passengers but it might mean that the economics of travel could change unless airframe manufacturers also play ball. While airlines are able to increase the seat pitch, and therefore leg room, one of the other complaints from passengers is seat width.
It actually became a key selling point for Airbus when Boeing started to offer narrower seats on both the Dreamliner and 777, which allowed for more seats and therefore better economics for the airlines, which naturally meant most airlines opted for this tighter seat configuration to maximise on profits.
Paradym could deliver new opportunities for value creation in the space between economy class and business class. It actually challenges conventional notions of product division (business/premium economy/economy) using partitions between classes. Instead, multi-purpose extra-wide triple seats would replace the four seats currently in the centre section of economy cabins. On A350, A380 and 777, wide triples and wide doubles could be used in a 3-3-2 configuration.
“We originally conceived Paradym with a future single aisle aircraft in mind, and the reaction by the market has been very positive” said Daniel Baron, LIFT Aero Design’s managing director. “After the invasion of Ukraine and resulting increase in flight times, we realized that the concept is relevant right now.”
There are also economical benefits that could generate additional revenues, similar in approach to the sky couches of the likes of Air New Zealand or China Airlines. “Airlines are constantly faced with the challenge of matching supply with demand due to the inability to quickly convert seat hardware,” said Baron. “Our concept simplifies the cabin while helping operators leverage their existing revenue management tools.”
Each spacious triple would allow the airline to sell any location in the cabin as extra comfort economy, or premium economy, or “economy flat” with a sleeping surface that is 6 feet/185 cm long. That would enable the majority of flyers to sleep without bending their knees.
While this concept certainly raises many questions, it is concepts like this that help challenge the norm. And as the US is embarking on its first public survey into seat comfort, perhaps the tides are already turning. With passengers now speaking out, design agencies producing interesting new concepts, and airlines already adapting their cabins for ultra-long haul travel, the only remaining piece of the puzzle lies with the airframe manufacturers. While wider airframes might still be decades away, they will be needed to reflect the simple truth, humans aren’t getting smaller.