Tag: airline

The Middle Seat

In 2019, the US FAA approved the company Molon Labe Seating‘s (MLS) landmark seat design for commercial airplanes.
 
What MLS did, is take the problem of discomfort of middle-seat passengers, and attempted to solve it by:
(i) widening the middle seat (from 18″ to 21″), and
(ii) placing the seat slightly lower, and slightly behind the other two seats.
Like this: https://youtu.be/LbWyXPYAXU0 
Unless I’m wrong about this, the FAA’s blessings might make the middle seat passenger more uncomfortable than she already is, if airlines buy into the new design. Here are my limited views about this. I did enjoy studying this. Hopefully MLS finds these inputs helpful in making flying a bit more comfortable.
 
For clarity, let’s break the challenge MLS was dealing with, into its components:
  1. Seat width
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward)
    • Height
  3. Wing passenger movement
For simplicity, let’s consider an obese person who gets the middle seat.
 
Looking at the above components:
  1. Seat width – going by the video, actual seat width has not increased, but only the seat (stretching under the armrest) and backrest are wider. This would undoubtedly be more comfortable than the present seats. However, the armrests would still press into the stomach region of an obese passenger. Fixing this would need a seat redesign, as it would be tough to widen the gap between armrests without narrowing the passage area
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward) – Purely from a position perspective, the MLS design is an improvement. Ordinarily, middle-seat passengers perhaps have even less privacy than others (ever been in the middle seat looking into your phone, and realized your co-passengers were too? :P). With the centre seat slightly behind, its passenger would at least get some privacy for suffering the seat.
      My bigger concern: The back of any person, is not a flat plane. It curves slightly at the shoulders, more if the person hunches. In the current design, an obese person’s shoulders might extend into the backrests of seats on either side, whether they are all in upright or reclined position. With the new offset layout, it would be very restrictive (and for some, claustrophobic even) as it obstructs at arguably a person’s widest cross-section.
    • Height – If the obese passenger is short (maybe under 5’3″, the lower new seat position works fine. But for an average to tall passenger, it is a transition from uncomfortable, narrow seats; to uncomfortable, narrow and low seats – which means not only might their back hurt afterwards, but also their thighs and calves
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, the wing seat passenger moves straight in and out. With the MLS redesign, they would have to zigzag their way in and out (and for loo visits) – a partial inconvenience

Image [2018]: source

Using the above 2018 seat comparison by SeatGuru of popular US airlines, I took a simple average to arrive at:
Seat width: 17.885″, and Seat Pitch of: 33.35″.
 
Now, here’s an alternate layout that I’m suggesting. It takes MLS’s new (wider) seats, but at normal height.
I rounded down Seat Width to 17″, and Seat Pitch up to 34″ for ease of scale and representation.

In the above image, the section on the left depicts a sample 9 rows of economy seats on the left section of an aircraft with the existing seat layout. The aisle would be on the right of this section. Similarly, the right side of the image is my suggested new seat layout pattern. For a sample 9 rows (total 27 economy seats in the existing layout) on the left section of an aircraft, my suggested design (right) offers hopefully a better layout with the trade-off of 1 seat (total 26 seats). 

Possible advantages of my suggested design:

  1. Seat width – the new MLS wide seat design, which seems marginally more comfortable. However, only a complete redesign allowing for wider gaps between armrests would actually make it better for the passenger
  2. Seat position
    1. Position (backward) – 3 seats slightly offset from the other, forming an “A” layout (if you consider all 6 seats, three on either side of the aisle in a given row, they would form an A pattern, with the aisle seats forward, and the wing seats further behind for the same row). Seemingly more uniform level of privacy irrespective of seat. And each passenger has zero obstruction of adjoining seat backrest or passenger on one side
    2. Height – all seats of same height to prevent added leg/thigh and lower back fatigue for middle-seat passengers
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, passengers need to turn 90° into or out of their row. In the suggested layout, while visits too the loo would involve a bigger angle of turn, but only boarding and disembarking would be at only a slight angle from the aisle.

Thoughts?
@MLS, like you, I am simply looking at it from trying to improve passenger experience. Hope you find this useful.

On the topic of airline seats, here’s an old thought I had.

The Middle Seat analysis was part of an initiative called RattL ’em.
What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. The email either contains an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy consulting.

Airline Seats and Behaviour

Airline Seats and Behaviour

Do you think those extremely uncomfortable airline seats have anything to do with our behaviour when we are flying?

Remember the last flight you took. Unless you were traveling business or first class, you can’t forget the tiny seats. And the armrests, that always seem to have gotten closer from the last time you flew. To the point your brain is rapidly calculating if this justifies engaging the claustrophobia-induced panic mode. But ever wondered why the backrests almost seem to cave in, making you hunch over?

If you considered it from an airline business point of view, all of it together would make sense. The tiny seats crammed together, with curved backrests. Maximizing the limited space inside the aircraft to fit the most number of seats. While pushing the average, not-so-fit human into the most constricted position he or she could get into.

But there might be another reason for the curved backrests. I wonder if it is possible that the design alters your behviour just sufficiently, for the duration of the flight.
How?

Someone of average height sitting in the seat, has their back hunched slightly, shoulders rolled in, and head bent slightly forward. While this causes a certain level of irritation and discomfort, it also makes one feel a little less powerful, or less in control. Which means you look up from an almost servile position, at the airline staff that caters to you.

The advantage of this for the airline. Less chances of boisterous passengers being their usual self. Less tendencies of people becoming confrontative with the crew or fellow passengers, and a reduced tendency to interact with anyone apart from those seated beside you, which means lesser chatter and noise in the aircraft.

The opposite of this posture, would be what social psychologist Amy Cuddy calls ‘power posing’. A posture that she claims, induces positive hormonal and behavioural changes in the person. The hypothesis has been discredited since. With scholars claiming to have failed to recreate its effects in follow-up studies. However, I’m with her on the soundness of the theory. While a pose or posture might not consistently bring about a desired effect in others, it still has considerable effect on the individual themselves, even if for a brief time. Confidence, overconfidence, anger, aggression, composure, and possibly even openness (or not) to others views. I believe these factors get altered, depending on the posture or pose.

And therefore, perhaps either by design or unintentionally, airline seats seem to be the way they are. Perhaps not intended for discomfort, but maybe towards a greater outcome –  a plane full of composed and mostly manageable fliers.

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Rolling Gear

Rolling Gear

Last May, Indian airline companies reduced the permissible weight limit on checked-in bags [domestic sector] to 15 kgs. The international limit ranges from 23 kgs (or lower?) to the more generous likes of Emirates that allows up to 30 kgs (Economy) and 50 kgs (First Class).

The average suitcase weighs between 3-6 kilos. What remains is what you get to fill. Now the lightest bags in the market are quite expensive. And not too rugged either. A few trips and you’ll know.

So while most of us feel restricted by the weight limit, I’m sure you’ve wished bags were light enough to allow you to carry stuff weighing exactly the permissible weight limit, if not more.

Wait. Carry more than weight limit? How’s that even possible? How could you carry over 23 kgs when the limit is 23, and yet not have to pay for it?

Before you read ahead, let me confess, I don’t have an answer for it yet, but I’m hoping this post will spark some genius in you to start working towards a solution to make bags and other things [try shoes, school bags, cars, anything] lighter. That would be useful, wouldn’t it?

Growing up, I often imagined the possibility of having bags lined with an airtight casing of a gas less dense than air. Hydrogen or Helium, for instance. Imagine being able to carry 30 kgs of your stuff, and the Hydrogen or Helium compensating to bring the final weight back down to 23 kgs.

Simple as it sounds, here’s why it isn’t possible. Hydrogen is extremely flammable and can diffuse easily [with the tiniest crack], making it extremely difficult to carry, and dangerous too.

Then there’s Helium. Helium is unfortunately too expensive to be a viable option. To put into perspective, you’d need 974.3 liters of it to lift 1000 grams (1kg). You’d be better of paying for excess baggage.

So, till we find a solution for it, stick to traveling light. And think of ways that bags and other things could be made lighter. You can’t imagine the things you could move around easily then. Imagine the energy and fuel that will be saved in doing so too.

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The Last Straw

The Last Straw

Have you ever been in a state where you’re head is filled with the purest rage? Where you think, ‘once more someone messes with me regarding (whatever), and they’re really gonna get it?

Have a look at this article. Just an average, or in my view, above average employee, who just got pushed way over the edge, for apparently no fault of his. (Fed-Up Flight Attendant Makes Sliding Exit)

What happened was, that an airline attendant, Steven Slater, who probably had his share of responsibilities and troubles, got pushed a little too much when a passenger stood up to fetch his luggage on the aircraft before the crew had given permission. When Slater instructed the man over the PAS to remain seated, the passenger goes ahead with removing his luggage. And when Slater reaches the passenger, he accidentally gets hit on the head by the luggage the passenger was trying to remove. Now this, in itself, is a random accident that could happen to anyone. But when Slater asked for an apology, the passenger proceeds to curse him. So that’s two mistakes by one moron of a passenger. Firstly, not following rules, and then throwing his weight on someone trying to enforce those rules.

Slater, who apparently has served 20 years in the industry, (20 whole years is a bloody long time eh!), was a regular chap, who had been recently caring for his dying mother, who happened to be a retired flight attendant. His father too was a pilot in his day. Slater happened to be the leader of the airline’s uniform redesign committee apart from being a member of the airline’s in-flight values committee.

So I guess that does speak for his character, abilities and his work.

There’s something that the average consumer, customer or colleague often doesn’t understand. That different industries and businesses have rules for the purpose of the very meaning of the word, rule = that which is prescribed or laid down as a guide for conduct or action. So obviously, being aware of the risks, or to maintain an orderly way of doing things, rules are laid down.

But most beings, thinking themselves the wiser, feel that they can merely bend the rules a bit to accommodate their holiness. It’s easy when the average self-centered soul thinks that way. But what happens when everyone starts thinking that way. We get chaos. We get three lines at a counter where there’s supposed to be only one, we get five lines of cars on a road with three lanes, we get the ‘everyone’s doing it so why cant I?’ question staring you in the face. We get herd mentality. We also get more fights, more abusing, more punches, etc. Because they are not the only self-centered one around, there are more like them always around, many more.

And then what happens. The last straw. What’s worse, is that oftentimes, the one pushed off the edge for no fault of theirs, gets punished too.

Like Slater, who after letting out a string of expletives at the passenger over the PAS, grabbed a beer, activated the emergency-evacuation chute, and slid down and drove home, only to have his home surrounded by police officers, detectives and port authorities, and him, arrested.

Normal people don’t do such crazy things. Grab a beer and jump out of a plane. As ridiculous as that sounds, bloody cool even. But no, normal people wouldn’t take their job that seriously either. Most of the kind of staff I have seen on airlines or even with some people I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of working with, they wouldn’t have bothered too hard in trying to enforce rules and regulations to that extent. They try a bit, and then don’t bother. So it’s usually the most hard working, the most driven and most dedicated of employees who usually end up reacting in such extreme ways when they are constantly pushed against the wall for their efforts and dedication.

It’s because, on a scale from 0 to 100, the average expectation of, say quality, or enforceability of a rule for a normal person is, say 50. The normal chap or gal would expect something in the 45-55 range under most circumstances. So when the weird folk bend the rules to say a 40 or even 30, they think they’re just doing something that’s 10-20 units off the normal. Not too big a deal.

But to that crazy dedicated worker, the normal delivery expectation he or she provides is nothing less that a 95. When someone’s screwing about with rules (pushing it to the 30’s or 40’s), regular employees think they’re 10-20 below average. From the dedicated fellow’s point of view however, they’re way below the 95 average. Which is why you then get the extreme reaction to situations like this.

Reminds me of the movie ‘The Rock’. Am pretty sure most of you who watched it, ‘wowed’ at the story, the action, and then forgot about it. But give it some more thought. The story of a Brigadier who takes tourists hostage as a final desperate attempt. An effort to get the government to open its eyes to a cause he’s fighting for. The deaths of fellow marines killed in action, who have been denied even the honour for their ultimate sacrifice.

But somehow, that fight of the Brigadier General is never addressed during the rest of the movie. Or realized even by most people who watched the movie. So, through most of the movie, the Brigadier General is viewed as the bad guy.

It is only a few people who follow the rules to that level, work towards something with everything they’ve got, and the least they expect, or rather deserve; is respect for their efforts. And when finally, their efforts aren’t leading to anything, they sometimes end up getting frustrated and taking a drastic step in a final attempt at bringing out the flaw in the system…only to be rewarded with punishment.

Rather than look at the final action, it would do some help if people were to even look at the situations and all the causative factors which eventually culminate in that one drastic or so-called stupid career-killing step.

I guess the world expects people to merely reconcile themselves with things that happen. To not complain, challenge, nor question it.

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