Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Please make sure all personal items are stowed in the bicycle basket, take your feet off the brakes, and prepare for landing

Throughout our many years together, my husband and I had a couple of prime travel destinations. Foremost over the years was New York City, the place where, in fact, Jim would have preferred we live.

In our early days, we often took the long-gone Eastern Shuttle, which ran pretty much every hour and required no reservations. You just showed up and Eastern pretty much guaranteed that if you didn’t get on the first flight, they’d put on a “second section” for the overflow passengers. We used to lollygag around the waiting area, hoping that there’d be a second section, and that we’d get on it. This was because the second section was often an older plane that featured this sort of living room configuration where you sat face to face opposite your seat-mate. It looked more like what you’d find in a comfy train compartment rather than what you’d find on a plane.

I’m sure that they were the standard airplane seats of the time, but I kind of remember them as cushy arm chairs.

Of course, compared to today’s steerage class seats, they were cushy arm chairs.

And those skimpy, narrow-gauge crammed-in seats may be going to go from bad to worse.

Some economy-class seats have already lost about 30% of their weight in the past 10 to 20 years, says René Dankwerth of RECARO, a seat-maker. But there is scope to do more: padding is being made thinner by replacing foam with netting; reclining mechanisms are being removed from some short-haul planes. Most of the extra room thus created is used to squeeze in extra rows of seats.

Skift, a research firm, notes that this has prompted a seating war among the planemakers. First, Airbus increased capacity on its A320 short-haul plane from 180 to 189 to match that of Boeing’s 737. Boeing responded with a new, 200-seater 737. So Airbus is now promising a 240-seater. The new planes will be no longer than their older versions.(Source: The Economist)

But wait, there’s more. Or less. Because there are only so many ways to cram more seats in to a fixed amount of space. And the answer on how to do so isn’t all that obvious or easy. This is not the airline equivalent of asking Sarah Tucker how to make “pudding in a cloud.” This is a tough one. And Airbus, bless their body-packin’ little hearts, has come up with one possibility. The company:

… has patented a bicycle-style seat on which air passengers would perch rather than sit.

If you’re wondering what this might look like, Business Insider dug up the patent application for us:

Airbus seats

Airbus knows that being stuck in a cramped space on a plane is uncomfortable, and admitted as much in the patent filing. But the company apparently believes passengers would be willing to handle the discomfort in exchange for a cheap flight.

"[To maximize financial returns on aircraft for low-cost airlines], the number of seats in a cabin must be increased, to the detriment of the comfort of the passengers," stated Airbus in the patent filing. "However, this reduced comfort is tolerable for passengers in as much as the flight lasts one or a few hours."  (Source: Business Insider)

I guess this will preclude the heavy-set from flying, since they would no longer be able to buy the adjacent seat. I guess this would preclude folks flying with babies, unless they wanted to bring along the kiddie-carrier seats they used on their own bikes. I guess this would preclude any passengers “requiring special assistance” – who’s going to help granny up and down off her bicycle seat? I guess this would preclude anyone getting any work done, grazing the Sky Mall catalog, or just taking a nap. Or enjoying a pack or pretzels and a shorty can of apple juice.

But at least you wouldn’t have to worry about the passenger in front of you relaxing his seat back into your lap. And it would only be for a flight lasting only one “or a few” hours.

What next?

Strap-hanging? Piling folks up like stacks of cordwood? Offering baggage-class, in which passengers could opt to fly in the cargo hold?

If they stick with the bicycle seat approach, maybe they could add pedals, and have passengers pedal to keep the cabin lights on. They could award “persistent pedaler” miles.

Admittedly, Airbus may never actually put this plan into action. But at least they’ve got the specs ready if they need them.

Me? I might just stay at home from now on.

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