July 24, 2019
Airplanes are the place where personal space goes to die. We all know that. And the middle seat is a purgatory of jam-packed limbs and compressed body parts.
But what if the airlines were to completely rethink middle seats to make them more capacious and comfortable?
In 2017, Fast Company reported on a landmark airplane seat called the S1. Its design was unique in that it staggered the typical three-seat arrangement, so that middle-seat passengers were perched slightly behind others in their row.
The big news: Last month, U.S. airlines received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to install the S1 seating configuration on planes; an undisclosed U.S .airline will be putting them on 50 planes by the end of 2020, Fast Company says.
The S1 has been in development for five years, by the team behind at Lakewood, Colorado-based Molon Labe Seating. Designed for commuter flights of only a few hours max, the S1 moves the middle seat a few inches lower than, and back from, the aisle and window seat. It also widens the seat by about three inches.
This allows your arms, shoulders, thighs, and elbows to spread just a bit more than they otherwise could, without giving the seat more legroom or reducing a plane’s seating capacity (which translates to profit margins for airlines).
“We have discovered that what looks like a small stagger actually makes a huge difference. The trick is to actually sit in the seat. In fact our main sales tool is to ship seats to airlines so they can sit in them,” says Molon Labe founder Hank Scott.
“I have watched this several times—airline executives see the seat, nod their head and then say they get it. Then we ask them to actually sit down, next to a big fella like our head sales guy Thomas [6-foot-6, 250 pounds]. Within a few seconds they [really] get it—they stop being an airline executive and switch into passenger modes.”
The seat pairs this staggering effect with a two-level armrest design to eliminate the inevitable elbow fights that happen when six arms battle over four armrests. This approach works better in visuals than explained, but basically, the aisle and window passengers end up using the front ledge of the rest, and the middle passenger uses the rear portion.
Research contact: @FastCompany