The space race

How can we overcome the problem of the reclining airline seat? Is there a way of doing so that keeps all parties happy?

The scenario is all too familiar. You are sitting comfortably in your airline seat after takeoff. The aeroplane has levelled out, the seatbelt signs go off and people begin moving around in the cabin. You contemplate the next few hours and may lower the seat tray in order to do some work or alternatively set up the in-flight entertainment system in order to combat the inevitable tedium of a long-haul flight. And then it happens. The person in front of you abruptly reclines their seat, impinging on your personal space, cramping your movement and all but forcing you to do the same in order to recover your allocation of space. This, of course, has the domino effect of passing on the problem to the person in the seat behind you. There can be little doubt of the inconvenience, irritation and pent-up frustration this scenario engenders among airline passengers. And which of us, faced with such a situation, can honestly say we have not wished all manner of unpleasantness on the person in front? And yet one of the great frustrations of such a situation is that one can't legitimately complain to the reclinee, since they are well within their rights to recline their seat. After all, the facility exists to do so and, they might argue, they have as much right to comfort as the person behind them. The Challenge The Challenge this month, then, is to devise a new design for airline seats that circumvents this problem. Such a solution would have to cope with the fact that there is limited space available and that airlines are certainly not going to accept any solution that involves them carrying fewer passengers. After all, airline staff may refer to we passengers as 'self-loading cargo' on the quiet, but they still know they need us to keep flying. Equally, any such solution would have to cause as little structural disruption to the aircraft as possible. For instance, it might be possible to have alternate rows of seats fixed either to the floor or ceiling, thereby affording the passengers rather greater freedom and space. However, the logistical difficulties of rebuilding the seats for your entire fleet of aircraft would make this solution impracticable. Equally, there may be safety implications that would rule out such a solution. The solution we have in mind is an economy seat for airline travel that has been inspired by difference, new materials and flexibility. The seat has been designed to offer passengers choice over the amount of space they pay for and to provide a better fit for more people. However, that is not to say you cannot come up with something better. We look forward to finding out. -Solution- Solution to the December 2013 Coffee Time Challenge The solution to December's Coffee Time Challenge of how to design an airline seat that can recline and adjust without inconveniencing other passengers comes from leading global design and innovation company Seymourpowell in the form of Morph, a concept economy seat for airline travel that has been inspired by difference, new materials and flexibility. Morph uses smart architecture to adjust both the width of the seat, and individually control seat pan height and seat pan depth to suit varying sizes of passenger. This creates a scalable value offer for airlines, allowing them to arrange the economy cabin by people's willingness and ability to pay for space, blurring the boundaries between the classes. The concept seat works by replacing traditional foam pads with a fabric that is stretched across the width of three seats, around a frame and over formers. One piece of fabric is used for the seat back and one is used for the seat base. The fabric is clamped down by the armrests and the upper dividers to form three individual hammock seats. By moving the formers and pushing them through the fabric, users can control the recline and a large range of ergonomic adjustments, morphing the fabric to provide a tailored fit and greater comfort. As the recline happens within the soft furnishings, the solid seat back does not move. The semantics of the architecture and visual cues indicate that the back of the seat belongs to the passenger facing it. Passengers can extend the width of their armrests over their own lap, increasing that feeling of independence and control over their own space. As just one sheet of fabric is used across three seats, the dividers can be moved laterally and then clamped down in a different position and so adjusting the width of each individual seat. Families travelling together can tailor their seats according to size, for example a Mum and Dad with an infant could pre-book a large, medium and a small space.