Across the world’s airlines, economy class is becoming more cramped, less comfortable and has fewer amenities.
But some new “revolutionary” seats could be a game changer.
British company Layer has devised a prototype seat, for use on short to mid-haul flights in Airbus economy cabins, promising to deliver premium comfort.
The prototype seat, called Move, is made up of a digitally knitted, one-piece sling over a lightweight perforated composite frame.
How do they work?
The Move seats’ have a cover connected to sensors that detect the passengers’ body and the chairs’ conditions.
These can be controlled by an app that analyses data collected by the sensors. The app will also message the passenger, telling them how they can improve their comfort.
Users can also customise their seats by selecting modes such as sleep, massage or meal time.
The seats will automatically adjust based on passengers’ weight, size and movement. But there is one catch – they don’t recline.
“I’m unsure how comfortable these seats will be on a six to seven-hour flight as there’s no reclining,” Swinburne University airline operations expert Dr Peter Bruce said.
“But it may well be suitable, so I think we’ll just have to wait and see once they’re rolled out.”
Nonetheless, he said it was about time airlines focused on redesigning economy seats.
“Airlines have always been focused on improving business class and first class seats as it’s the high yield area of the aircraft, so it’s really good to see the concentration of effort focusing on economy seats,” Dr Bruce said.
Other features of the prototype Move include adjustable tray tables, optional in-flight entertainment systems and small pockets on the back of each.
The tray tables are height-adjustable and stow vertically. Passengers can use it as half-size, and have more knee room, or fold it out to full size.
There is laptop storage in between the seats and – perhaps best of all – Move will detect any forgotten belongings at the end of the flight and notify the passenger.
Seats are a ‘game changer’
Airline Intelligence Research managing director and former Qantas chief economist Dr Tony Webber said the seats were a game changer.
“The fact that these seats are lightweight and don’t recline is going to tackle passengers’ usual bugbear,” he said.
“This usually causes a lot of angst as passengers don’t have much leg room when the seat in front of them is reclined.”
Dr Webber said the adjustment based on passenger preferences was innovative.
“Layer seems to be applying more tech functions to the seat, it’s very thought out,” he said.
Airlines striving to improving economy
The current benchmark for economy class seats is Japan Airlines, which took out best economy seat honours at last year’s Skytrax World Airline Awards.
Passengers have flocked to Japan Airline’s economy class after it increased its seat pitch, giving passengers 84 centimetres of legroom.
By comparison, passengers on Virgin Australia get a 75-centimetre seat pitch in economy.
Japan Airlines’ seats also have cushioning, unobstructed spaces underneath them, bottle holders and an accessory pouch for gadgets.
There are charging sockets and 27-centimetre touch-panel monitors for in-flight entertainment.
A Tigerair Australia spokesman said new seats were installed on its fleet of Boeing 737s last year.
“The seats feature state-of-the-art slimline leather seats, providing an enhanced customer experience with the most comfortable low-cost economy seats in the sky,” he said.
Tigerair’s new seats have adjustable headrests, extra storage pockets and built-in tablet/phone holders on the back. The spokesman said they would soon be complemented by in-flight entertainment offering latest release movies and TV shows.
What passengers should know when booking
“The website allows passengers to see the seat pitch, how many premium economy seats there are and the overall layout of the aircraft,” Mr Sciberras said.
He said airlines had previously focused on filling the aircraft, rather than focusing on comfort in economy.
“In terms of comfort, it really does have to do with the seat pitch and we’re going to see more airlines start using this as a selling point,” he said.