Airbus, one of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world, seems to be on the path to eliminating what little comfort price-conscious travelers have left. The company has applied for a patent for a new type of plane seat on short-term flights–one that resembles a glorified bike seat. The seat does away with things like seat-back trays and the ability to recline, consisting simply of a small saddle, a very small back rest and armrests. Seat belts don’t seem to be involved (though federal aviation regulations require them).
Airlines have a vested interest in ensuring that every plane has as many people on it as possible. But with traditional seats, there’s only so much room to squeeze people in. The patent notes that it’s impossible to make seats any narrower than they are now. And it is pretty much impossible to rob passengers of any more legroom. The answer: make seats less bulky. The result makes flying look like being chained in a galley.
Because of the amount and cost of fuel necessary to hurtle a giant metal box through the air, shaving inches (and weight) off airplane interiors can save airlines big money. Using slightly thinner leather in some seats can save thousands of dollars. A slight design tweak to Virgin Atlantic’s food trays is estimated to save the airline millions in fuel costs over the next decade.
Whether this type of seat ever gets up in the air remains to be seen. Designing any aspect of an airplane’s interior is complicated. The process–which involves rigorous testing to determine that the object in question won’t impale anyone in a crash–can take years. Commercial aircraft seats need to be able to absorb substantial impact in the event of a crash.
But as airlines seek to turn a profit by packing planes even more tightly, perhaps we should feel grateful for the tiny amount of padding this bike seat might offer. Airbus has been pitching the idea of a standing room-only ticket option for years, and other airlines seem eager to adopt it as well. Michael O’Leary, CEO of the budget European airliner Ryanair, expressed his desire to implement the idea back in 2012. Thankfully, for the sake of butts everywhere, no such non-seat has made it through the regulatory process yet.
[H/T The Telegraph]