Editor’s note – Monthly ticket is a new series from CNN Travel that highlights some of the most fascinating topics in the world of travel. This June, we take to the skies to take a look at the latest developments in aircraft interiors, including the people working to change the way we fly.
(CNN) – You might not know that today’s airline seat sizing standard dates back to 1954.
That was when Boeing first flew the prototype that would usher in the era of the iconic 707.
As Boeing developed its families of aircraft, it repurposed basic elements such as the fuselage, even as it developed new wings and engines.
For example, the 727 was originally a 707 but motored in the rear. The 737 – which is still made today – was and still is essentially a 707 but with two engines instead of four.
The 707’s seats, arranged six per row in the “tourist” or “bus”, as the economy was called, were pretty good for 1954, but that was about 70 years ago.
You may not know many people who were adults in 1954, but if you do, make the most of their impressive longevity and compare their overall size and stature alongside that of an 18-year-old who is well-fed.
All things being equal, you’ll likely notice that people these days are a little bigger – taller, wider shoulders and wider buttocks.
But the Boeing 737 — which has a body width of 148 inches (3.76 meters), just like the 1970s — still seats six people in a row.
No wonder planes look more cramped today, even the slightly wider Airbus A320, which tends to offer 18 seats, or the A220 (Bombardier-designed C-Series), which offers 19 inches.
Above: The Boeing 707, the aircraft manufacturer’s first jet-powered aircraft. Below: A Boeing 737-800 in Hanover, Germany, in 2013.
Getty Images, Getty Images
But what if these single-aisle planes were even bigger? This is a question asked by in-house aviation consultancy LIFT Aero Design with a concept called Paradym.
Managing Director Daniel Barron and Design Partner Aaron Young are refreshingly open that Paradym really needs a new model: wider aircraft.
“The Paradym is a configuration concept for the next generation of single-aisle aircraft,” Barron told CNN.
“It embraces a higher level of comfort in economy class with wide triple seats. What is completely different is the idea of a new single-aisle aircraft that is much wider than the current 737 or A320 families.
“Each row in Paradym will have triple-wide seats, with 20 inches between the armrests instead of the current 17-18. Each row will also have armrests between the two seats instead of one.”
The concept will allow airlines to adjust these three seats to offer different levels of service according to demand, including economy and premium economy. There is an option to lie down as well.
Changing the needs of the traveler
LIFT is raising the question at a particularly pivotal time, particularly for the narrow-aisle single-aisle aircraft that make up most of the world’s short- to medium-haul fleet, and a small but growing portion of long-haul services.
Boeing expanded the Boeing 737 airframe in the 1960s as much as possible with the 737 Max. Airbus is going this way with the A320neo’s development of the A320 in the 1980s. Add that to the hydrogen power opportunities, and it seems likely that both aircraft makers will need to build an entirely new aircraft for their next narrowbody.
Now it’s time to talk about making that plane a little wider.
Barron argues, “The simple fact is that in an age of skyrocketing airfares, working from home forever, and the next reverse revolution, airlines will need to reinvent themselves to stay relevant.”
“Space in economy class for long distances has shrunk as more space is being allocated to premium classes for luxury seats. Around the world, people are increasing in every direction. Yesterday’s seat width standards may not be enough to hold them. Frequent long flights are attractive, especially With very long flights now spanning 16 to 20 hours.”
The LIFT Aero Design concept will allow airlines to adapt aircraft interiors according to demand. But first, aircraft makers will have to start making wider planes.
LIFT Aero Design
Covid-19 has also changed the way many people see their personal space ‘bubble’, while higher rates of in-flight disruption from rowdy passengers seem likely linked to the fact that rows of seats are, by and large, a few inches closer together Some than in previous years, and that there are more seats in each row.
When the Boeing 777 first began flying in the 1990s, nearly all major airlines had nine economy seats in each row. Today, nearly all of them have 10. When the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was designed in the 2000s, it announced a comfortable seating standard for eight citizens and a nine-passenger option for low-cost airlines — but in reality, only Japan Airlines captured eight seats. side by side.
From an aviation accountant’s point of view, this makes sense. The prevailing wisdom in the airline industry – and the continued success of low-cost airlines – is that any comfort concerns are ironed out by cheap ticket prices, and that very few passengers choose their flight over anything other than price and schedule.
Cabin without curtains or dividers
Barron explains that airlines “have access to highly sophisticated revenue management software to adjust fares, but at the end of the day, they can’t physically adjust seats on multi-class aircraft to meet ever-fluctuating demand.”
Some have tried, as with the type of convertible seat previously used by some European carriers to create a wider berth for their Eurobusiness style seats devoid of middle seats, but this has now largely been removed.
“Going forward, the key to sustainable profitability for airlines will be the ability to tailor the entire experience to customer needs,” Barron says.
These can change even for the same person between trips: A road warrior has different needs if she’s on a one-hour trip to Omaha alone versus an eight-hour overnight trip with her family to Europe on vacation.
“We are already seeing a trend towards unpacking,” says LIFT’s Aaron Young, referring to airlines selling individual products for mini-upgrade such as extra legroom seats, better meals, lounge access, more baggage, etc.
“Paradym is a configuration concept for the next generation of single-aisle aircraft,” says Daniel Baron, managing director of LIFT.
LIFT Aero Design
“In the future, the demand for flexibility in seat products and in-flight service options will only rise. In this context, the primary advantage of Paradym for airlines is the ability to sell multiple products with a single seat model across the aircraft. Customers will be able to book any experience offered by the airline, with the airline’s ability to continually adjust in order to optimize revenue generation for the flight, using every row in the aircraft, right up to departure.”
“The Paradym envisions a cabin without curtains or dividers,” Young explains, and compares groups of three seats to groups of four, or quads.
“The concept of traditional classes is being replaced by products. The airline can sell any row from nose to tail as economy, premium economy and/or flat product, i.e. customer buys three seats and gets ample sleeping space for almost as long as four. Can be combined with fine dining and IFE and facilities and selling it as “excellent economy apartment”, a completely new product category.”
This may not be for popular names with established brands and well-known brands: Delta One, United Polaris, British Airways Club World, etc.
But new airlines start running all the time, and often the old guard realize there can be real benefits to the new crowd’s way of doing things.
Is that enough, though, for a paradigm shift?
Top photo: LIFT Aero Design’s Paradym concept. Credit: LIFT Aero Design