The Challenges of Designing Comfortable Airplane Seats

I keep complaining here at Gadling about the minuscule legroom that airlines provide their coach passengers. This is, of course, a big concern of mine since I am 6’4″. A close second in the seating complaint department, are the seats themselves.

I never really thought about the challenges facing airplane seat manufacturers before. With legroom, it’s a no-brainer: the less legroom, the more seats that can be crammed into the plane. But with seats themselves, the driving force is the challenge of accommodating people of all shapes and sizes.

Beverly Beyette, writing for the LA Times, has put together a cool little article to help inform the complainers amongst us. Did you know, for example, that seats are designed to accommodate a range of sizes between a 4’11” woman and a 6’3″ man? Or that by 2009 all seats will have less padding as airline comply with a FAA regulation beefing up the internal structures of the seat?

The most fascinating part of the article was the fact that seat designers also have to take into consideration that Americans have gained an average of 25 pounds and one inch in height since the 1960s. This also has an impact well beyond the seat itself. Beyette quotes a study by the Journal of Preventive Medicine which discovered that in the year 2000, this extra weight “cost airlines $275 million for 350 million more gallons of fuel.”

The takeaway from this article is simple; until we all become the exact same size, we can continue to expect more discomfort in the future.