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Innovation: Salt Me Down

Airlines have long been derided as ‘buses in the air.’ But new technology, new planes, and even new seating in those planes are all contributing to turn air travel upside down. Or is it back to front?

Airlines have long been derided as ‘buses in the air.’ But new technology, new planes, and even new seating in those planes are all contributing to turn air travel upside down.

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Or is it back to front?

Ben Webster in a story in The Times (UK) reveals that some airlines are considering “yin-yang” seating that would call for some passengers to sit facing the rear of the plane. In fact, ten airlines, including British Airways, are examining a back-to-front seating arrangement to give people more legroom.

Oh, I should mention that this yin-yang configuration would enable airlines to shoehorn up to 50 additional seats into, say, an A380 — which, at first blush sounds like we’ll be packed sardine-like into the fuselage. This is an improvement?

In a word, yes!

In truth, sardine seating has a lot to recommend to it. Sitting back to front lets airlines fit more people into the same space by using that space more creatively and efficiently.

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Shoulder-to-shoulder seating is what we have now, and it is undeniably uncomfortable.

Back-to-front seating, on the other hand, flips seats so that passengers no longer sit elbow to elbow, thus freeing up valuable room wasted between the armrests.

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As Webster explains, sardine seating not only would end “the battle of the elbows for that sweetspot on the armrest,” but would let you use you laptop without worrying that your neighbor is peering over your shoulder. So salt me down, I’m ready for the can.

I’m really ready because the biggest back-to-front comfort gain would be a four-inch increase in seat pitch, i.e., the gap between your seat and the seat in front of you.

In fairness, I should note the tradeoff for this more roomy seating is that you’ll be facing another passenger. So which do you value more: Personal space or personal privacy?

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For me, it’s a no-brainer. I like to stretch out, and no flight gives me enough space. If the airlines gave me a vote about giving me this sort of extra room, I’d say, Go for it!

I figure that if, like most passengers, you’re reading a magazine, plunking your laptop, or watching cabin TV, staring at another person just isn’t an issue. On trains, back-to-front seating already exists. And what about subways and elevators and escalators?

We live in an eyeball-to-eyeball society. What’s the big deal?

Avoiding the other fellow’s squint isn’t the real question.

The real question is, with all of those extra bodies on back-to-front flights, will the airlines kindly remember to install proportionally more powder room capacity?

If not, it won’t be a squint you’ll be trying to avoid. It’ll be a grimace.

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What do you think?

Airline Futurist • Miami • rbuckman@amadeus.com • www.amadeus.com

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