Coming Soon: Wider Airline Seats For Wider Air Travelers

Airline seats continue to be a hot issue with air travelers. Instead of cramming into a smaller space with less legroom, some of us pay extra for a premium coach seat. Airlines like that idea and have offered a number of profit-boosting options, bundling early boarding, a prime location and more as part of the deal. Now Airbus has a plan to replace a row of three 18-inch-wide seats with a 20-inch seat on the aisle and 17-inch seats for the middle and window locations.

“The wider seats may be offered at a premium for those who require more room or as a reward for frequent flyers,” says an ExecutiveTravelMagazine article, noting that a number of airlines are indeed interested in the new seat configuration.

The Airbus option comes at a time when airlines are taking a serious look at seating in both existing and new aircraft on order. United began featuring slimmer seats that grant more legroom on its Airbus fleet in May. Those proved so popular that United will roll out the change to all of its Airbus planes eventually.Comfort is apparently not all about room either. Delta has dozens of new Boeing jets with highly-requested power outlets at seats throughout the plane.

Aircraft Boarding Challenges Bring Innovative Designs

Boarding commercial aircraft, from a traveler’s point of view, is all about getting to our seats, stowing gear and getting underway. We hope to have overhead bin space available, a reasonably comfortable seat and an on-time departure. Airlines are right there with us on the getting to our seats part and getting underway; they could not agree more. It’s a major issue so aircraft designers devote a lot of time and resources to making the whole process efficient.

Airlines want the boarding process to go as fast as it can for a couple big reasons. They want to stay on time, sure. But the less time they spend boarding passengers, the more flights they can fit in a day. As airlines cut back on the number of flights, choosing to insure full, profitable planes, they are constantly looking for ways to increase that efficiency.

One way might be slider seats that promise quicker boarding.Using the new Molon Labe Designs approach during boarding, the aisle seat slides on top of the middle seat, creating a 43-inch wide aisle. That gives boarding passengers much more room to navigate, stow gear and be seated. When boarding on each row is completed, the aisle seat then slides back into position.

The manufacturer promises they can cut loading time in half, adding up to 120 minutes flying time every day. Good news for airlines that could fly the same number of passengers with up to 15 percent fewer aircraft. But what about passengers?

“I’m not going to tell you it’s a comfortable seat,” Hank Scott, founder of the company said in a LA Times article. “It’s a quick, turn-around seat.” A prototype is due in November and the company has presented the idea to Boeing and Airbus.

Like it or not, aircraft seating is a huge topic to designers. The amount of time it takes to board passengers is on the table for discussion. To those with mobility issues, its also about the indignity and discrimination they face boarding aircraft.

Air Access is a concept designed by Priestmangoode that speeds up the boarding process for passengers with reduced mobility by enabling an easier transition from gate to aircraft. Air Access is a detachable wheelchair the passenger gets in at the departure gate or on the jet way. After seating, the passenger is wheeled onto the plane where the chair slides sideways and locks into the fixed-frame aisle seat without the passenger needing to get up.

On arrival, ground staff unlocks the seat, slide it out into the aisle and wheel the passenger to the jet way or arrival gate as we see in this video:

[Flickr photo by Slices of Life]

150,000 airline seats involved in another Japanese recall

More bad news for Japanese companies today, as Yokohama based Koito Industries admitted to falsifying test results from its line of airplane seats.

According to the Japanese transportation ministry, the entire testing department at Koito was involved in the scandal, and it may have been going on since the mid 90’s.

During the investigation, officials discovered that Koito skipped entire tests, and used data from past tests instead. In addition to this, they manipulated computer screens so they would show false figures during tests observed by the government.

The false information can have potentially catastrophic results – results of fire resistance and strength were falsified on as many as 150,000 seats installed on planes from 32 airlines.

According to the Koito site, they sold seats to airlines like Continental, JAL, ANA, KLM, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic and SAS. Whether those airlines actually received seats involved in this recall is unknown.

Of course, the timing of this recall is terrible for the Japanese – as they are in the middle of their embarrassing admission of how Toyota handled their safety issues. Make no mistake – 150,000 airline seats in need of potential improvements could turn into a major problem for those airlines involved, especially if the recall means seats need to be replaced.

As of right now, there is apparently “no cause for concern” – the Japanese transportation ministry has approved the continued use of the seats after consulting the Federal Aviation Administration.

Update: Initially, this article had listed Air Canada as a current user of Koito seats (based off information from the Koito site). The airline contacted us to let us know that they removed all Koito seats in 2008. None of the seats in the Air Canada fleet are currently from the troubled Japanese company. Thanks to Air Canada for that correction.

Flight delays may be wrinkle in Ryanair fat tax

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary says he’ll only move forward with plans to charge oversized passengers for extra seats if it’s easy. If it slows down the process of checking people in and getting planes pushed back from the gate, he wants no part of making more money.

Surprisingly, O’Leary didn’t comment on whether larger passengers would slow planes down, causing further delays. The media whore controversy-prone CEO – who then wonders why “idiot bloggers” treat him as we do – is known for offering journalists the outrageous and then wondering why they publish it.

Unsurprisingly, O’Leary used the phrase “fat tax” in a press conference. Specifically, “We are not going to introduce a fat tax unless it is easy to administer,” as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald.

While the public actually voted in favor of this measure, it’s nonetheless been a lightning rod for criticism. With typical panache, O’Leary says, ostensibly to critics, that a fat tax is not against the law, which is the company’s usual standard for behavior.

And, when all else fails, “we can make it a safety issue.”