The gulf between what premium airline passengers sat in the pointy end of the plane and those stuck in Economy experience just seems to get wider and wider. New seats (and even suite’s) for Business and First Class passengers are getting ever more innovative, increasing the level of luxury as airlines battle it out for the ultimate premium experience.
Just a few days ago, Lufthansa revealed its brand new Business Class which converts into a six and a half foot long bed. A spokesperson for the airline said the seat would create a “new global benchmark” for Business Class.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen two Business Class product’s with sliding privacy doors unveiled this year – one by Qatar Airways and the other by Delta Air Lines. The Qatar version even allows couples to create a double bed to sleep together or a group of four to effectively share a social area.
But down the back, the passenger experience couldn’t be more different – apart from minor cosmetic changes, we’ve seen such virtually no innovation. Okay, so there have been some good improvements. Some Economy seats off a space-saving recline function, others have clever headrests and of course, in-flight entertainment system’s have come on leaps and bounds.
Otherwise, though, the design of Economy Class seating hasn’t fundamentally changed since the early days of commercial aviation. The only big difference we are seeing more of in recent years is a push from airlines to squeeze ever more seats into the same space they had before.
That means slimline seats with virtually no padding, stripped down armrests so you’re sat even closer to your seatmate and such little room between seats that you’re knees may never recover.
And this new uncomfortable reality isn’t just confined to budget airlines either. Legacy carrier, American Airlines has a very tight configuration on its new Boeing 737 aircraft, while United has joined the legions of airlines who have a 3-4-3 configuration on their 777 aircraft.
The problem, it seems, is that developing a new and innovative Economy seat just isn’t worth the costs involved. Some have thought about mixing things up and quickly retreated when the economics just didn’t add up.
Will the airlines adopt this new design of seat?
But California-based patent specialist, ipVenture wants to “rescue passengers from shrinking airline seats” with its patent-pending ‘double deck’ seating idea. The designers behind the idea say this isn’t just about increasing comfort. They’re hoping airlines will embrace their design because of its potential to improve safety.
A spokesperson for ipVenture said the company had created “innovative technology” that “provides spacious—safe—economy class seating while maintaining the number of seats available on a flight.”
Developed by Kwok Wai Cheung, Peter P. Tong and C. Douglass Thomas the solution adopts a bi-level staggered-seat approach. On a double aisle aircraft like a Boeing 777, at least two rows of seats, including the aisle seats will remain single level. The remaining rows then go double-decker, giving every passenger a lot more room than what they’re currently used to.
This is how ipVenture describes the system:
“This innovative layout enhances safety by increasing each passenger’s space: passengers in interior seats can reach the aisle without requiring surrounding passengers to move. For the lower level, window seats can slide backward, allowing passengers to move behind seats even when the aisle seats are in a reclining position.
For the upper level, all passengers have room to walk to the aisle from the front of their seats. Planes can be evacuated in an orderly fashion, providing passengers with significantly more space to manoeuvre.”
How ipVenture envisages this design working, isn’t to add even more seats on a plane but to completely reimagine how we see Economy Class. Passengers get a lot more room than what they’re currently able to enjoy and even boarding and disembarkation should become a lot quicker.
Whether any airlines pay attention is a different matter altogether. Aircraft seats, especially down the back, have to be as light as possible in order to save on fuel. How much weight these seats would add isn’t yet known. The design was first submitted to the U.S. patent office in 2005 and no airline customers have come forward yet. But let’s just hope this latest iteration gets more love!