It’s now a time-old tradition: an airline comes along and wows us gullible public with what it insists will be the interior of its shiny new A380/787/777 – bowling alleys, private bedrooms and casinos – yet the reality never matches the hype. No doubt you know exactly the publicity loving red-engined airline I mean. So what does the future really hold for airline seating?
Aviation prides itself on being one of the most innovative industries around, with serious technological leaps on a regular basis, yet economy seating has remained constant for 40 years in terms of appearance. Now, however, there seems to be a revolution afoot with a few schools of thought on the way forward for seating – side by side with backs to the window, (the Ryanair option) bar room style and finally an alternate elevated option.
The side by side choice is a tried and trusted military option for transporting troops. Needless to say, Air Forces are organisations not typically recognised for their in-flight service so we’re not expecting much from this layout. Unsurprisingly the designers (Design Q) predict a 50% increase in passengers but they neglect to mention if this also means a 50% leap in comfort – somehow I seriously doubt it. They do claim a 30% reduction in fares is likely due to the higher density and insist that it is perfectly suitable for flights less than two hours. Close your eyes and you can imagine you’re on your way to Helmand. The military experience really does seems a viable option for anyone on a budget, especially when you bear in mind the battle for an aisle seat.
Staying with the budget theme, earlier this year Ryanair announced to the media that it was considering standing seats for passengers, despite the fact that this idea was originally discussed at least three years ago. Unfortunately for Ryanair, there seems to be no benefit for installing such “seats” as even if they save space, the airline already uses the maximum capacity of their 737-800 aircraft with 189 seats so what’s the point? Free publicity as always seems to be the prime motivation but as with most Ryanair initiatives, it seems to be a money-making exercise and no more.
If you want a proper seat, then you pay more than the poor souls who are standing behind you. Perfect: another way to squeeze the punters by the family jewels. However, never let it be said that Ryanair doesn’t have a sense of humour as they reportedly put this video up on their own site, thanks to a Dublin radio station.
Finally we come to the most futuristic concept, the Flex Seat by Jacob Innovations. A quasi double-decker system where every other row is elevated allowing for leg room for the seat behind it which is at conventional height. It looks fantastic, allows far more recline space and even has plenty of space for hand luggage. The elevated seats are reduced from four to three to make room for the steps on each side. It’s long on passenger comfort but short on revenue for airlines if the amount of seats are reduced – unfortunately it might not have a long term future. That’s a real shame considering the cattle conditions we have to put up with at the moment.
As business class seating gets ever more luxurious and complex, economy seating remains relatively constant. The in-flight entertainment aspect of the product has changed for the better but the pitch, width and comfort is no better than when the 747 was launched. Will we still be stuck in the same seating in another 40 years? I hope not, but I also wish that we are not all standing up with wistful thoughts for the days when we actually had a seat! Ian Bradley