The Future of Airline Seating

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lrargerich, flickr

You never know where inspiration is going to strike. For designer Emil Jacob, it was on a 2004 flight to Paris from his homeland of Romania when he gave up trying to get comfortable in his seat and decided to simply lie on the floor. "I tried to sleep on three empty seats, but the armrests wouldn't go up since they were fixed," he says. And that is when the light bulb went off. "When you lie on the floor of an aircraft, you notice a lot of unused space above you," he says. "Even when you're sitting in a plane, there's all this unused empty space above you."

Jacob, president and founder of the Boston firm Jacob-Innovations, LLC, began to envision how to utilize this untapped vertical space above passengers' heads to transform flight experiences from cramped cattle cars to spacious elbow room. He drafted airplane interior designs using his Step-Seat model that emphasized cost efficiency and passenger comfort, two seemingly polar opposites. It's no surprise that Jacob understands both sides of the story. In addition to his design work he also has a degree in finance and economics.

Jacob also knows his way around an airplane. While working on designs for better keyboards and handheld computers he often traveled from the U.S. to Europe to attend meetings, usually flying back on the same day. "All of my innovations you see are based on flight issues I personally dealt with," he sighs.

When first glancing at Jacob's pioneering designs, critics may see added risk, added costs, and yes, added passengers. But look more closely, and you'll notice the detailed thought that went into each concept. All his published designs are technically certifiable by the FAA, and can be implemented in airplanes already in use. As for safety, Jacob insists, "The steps I suggest are not that different from steps you'd find in a Boeing 747 that lead to the upper deck. Jacob has thought about the design from every angle. "There are some challenges with flight attendants having a visual line of sight with passengers, but things like weight sensors in the seats could indicate whether a passenger is there or not," he says.

There is the question of cost to the airlines for implementing these designs. "Yes, you may have additional weight, but then again, with almost twice the passengers in business class you can recover the upfront costs for building it," Jacob says. "Also, charging more for new and improved economy-plus and economy-premium seating will add revenue to flights."

So what are the chances that you may be climbing up stairs into your own peaceful sleeping bunk at 30,000 feet anytime soon? "The airlines are quite a rigid industry when trying to make any significant changes," says Jacob. "We have projects for some of the largest airlines in the world, especially overseas, but they like to keep anything new they're doing as discreet as they can." In the meantime, while patiently waiting for the airline interior revolution, some of us may be found secretly asleep on the floor.


Airline Seating


Alternate Elevated Seats - Economy

Jacob's first design is so simple, it's brilliant. In a concept he calls Economy-Comfort, modules with shells can accommodate the same number of seats as conventional economy class. Seats would recline to a luxurious 45 degrees. With many companies ending corporate perks like business class, the need for traveling employees to be able to sleep in economy grows greater. "If you were able to make the seat in front of you higher by about seven inches (no more than the height of a conventional step), you would have a lot of space under the seat in front you," explains Jacob. "The person in front could recline without being right in your face and the shell adds privacy so passengers don't snore in each other's faces either."


Airline Seating


Alternate Elevated Seats – Business Class

This model is designed to, paradoxically, improve both passenger density and comfort in business class. By elevating every other seat by two steps, new space creates a full bench for your legs in the lower seat, with more reclining for the passenger in the higher seat. (You may have to choose between your legs or your back when booking either style of seat.) "With this design, you could fit in about 40% more seats, when comparing fully flat business class seats," touts Jacob.


Airline Seating


Lateral Steps

In this version five lateral steps are used to access a second tier of seats, effectively doubling the number of passengers in conventional business class. It allows more space for suitcases, saving business travelers time by avoiding luggage check-in and pick-up. It's also great for mothers traveling with babies. A mechanism that folds the stairs into the upper level would allow the crew to switch the module to economy or business seating depending on how many of each type of seat are booked. "This model has the greatest efficiency," says Jacob. "I've had the question about handicapped people with this model, and they will always have priority for the first level."


Airline Seating


Lateral Steps and Alternate Elevated Combined

Both the concepts of alternating the height of each window seat and using steps to create a second tier of middle seating are incorporated here. Despite obviously adding to the number of passengers, each would get their own bed and added privacy.

"Another plus is that it allows two travelers to be seated together if they wish," says Jacob. "And it's a lot more open with greater window views."


Airline Seating


Limited Height

This concept was made for aircraft spaces with limited height, such as the upper deck of a Boeing 747. The second tier is up only three steps and passengers are seated laterally, thus requiring less headroom. "You can't go all the way up because of the curvature of the plane, but this increases the seats in the space by approximately 20%," he says.




All Photos Courtesy of Jacob-Innovations, LLC
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