Airbus’s New Folding Seats Provide a Look Into the Future of Budget Airline Flights

Airbus files for a patent for a new design that allows for more passengers on commercial flights.


This article titled “Airbus’s folding saddle seat could be the cattle-class future for cheap flights” was written by Oliver Wainwright, for theguardian.com on Thursday 17th July 2014 11.35 UTC

If you thought low-cost air travel couldn’t get any more bleak, then Airbus has a treat in store for you. The aeroplane manufacturer has now filed a patent for the what looks like a human battery-farm, but is in fact the future of budget flights: racks upon racks of folding saddle-seats for even more passengers to be jammed onto aeroplanes, packed in knee-to-rump.

While some airlines have already removed their folding tray tables and squeezed leg-room down to brutal knee-capping levels, Airbus have gone one step further, doing away with the idea of proper seating altogether. In their ultra-economy vision, seating aisles will instead take the form of long horizontal poles, from which bicycle-like saddles and small back and arm rests will pivot out, on to which humans will be placed, skewered together like table-football players.

“The design of the seats has to be optimised so that they present the smallest possible bulk,” says Airbus, explaining that the saddle-style seat has been developed “in order to reduce the distance needed to accommodate the legs of passengers between two rows of seating devices.”

The result, according to the patent diagram, is what looks like a line of people doing a sit-down conga, perching on each other’s knees. There barely a whisker of airspace between their limbs, let alone anywhere to place their over-priced soggy sandwiches. And you can forget about having a nap, unless your neighbour has a particularly forgiving shoulder.american-airlines-airbus

The design comes following increasing pressure from airlines for planes that pack even more people in. Ryanair has previously proposed standing-only sections, while other manufacturers have developed smaller loos that allow more seats to be squeezed in. The Boeing 777, originally designed for nine seats per row, now usually holds 10 abreast.

“It is now no longer possible to further reduce the seating width, particularly in economy class,” says Airbus. “It is also difficult to continue to further reduce the distance between the seats because of the increase in the average size of the passengers.” It admits that the folding saddles are not as comfortable as conventional airline seats, but that “this reduced comfort remains tolerable for the passengers in as much as the flight lasts only one or a few hours”.

These folding perches represent the latest step in the increasing polarisation of air travel, where societal distinction is still physically enshrined by “class” – Virgin Atlantic’s “Upper Class” designation surely being the most obnoxious of the lot. News of the Airbus plunging the latest depths for the lower classes comes just weeks after Middle Eastern airline Etihad unveiled the highest stratosphere of luxury travel. “The Residence at Etihad” comprises a three-room VIP suite, with its own living room, double bedroom and en-suite shower, and comes with access to a Savoy-trained butler, gourmet chef and concierge. Curtained-off private prayer rooms are equipped with a real-time electronic Qibla-finder showing the exact direction of Mecca based on the aircraft’s geographical position. As the sheikhs pray among the clouds, let’s just hope they spare a thought for the rest of us skewered together down below.

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