Tag: backrest

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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