Ending the squeeze for airline seats

Morph seat replaces traditional foam pads in airline seats with a fabric stretched across the back of a frame for three seats.
Morph seat replaces traditional foam pads in airline seats with a fabric stretched across the back of a frame for three seats.(Seymourpowell Photo, Baltimore Sun)

If indulging in Thanksgiving's excesses of food and drink has ever made you fret about fitting into the plane seat for the return trip home, a British company wants to put you at ease.

Design company Seymourpowell believes it has solved the common problem that comes up when extra-stout passengers try to squeeze into a seat made for an average flier.


The answer is a seat called Morph, which can be widened or reduced in width, depending on the space the passengers need. Here's how it works: A row of three seats are built as one, like a sofa, with armrest dividers that can be moved laterally to increase the width of one or two seats while reducing the space of the other.

One of the advantages, according to Seymourpowell, is that airlines can charge big passengers more for the extra space, while other fliers, such as children, can pay less to sit in a smaller seat.


A drawback: The seats don't recline.

Don't expect to see the seat on your next flight. So far, Seymourpowell is putting out the seat as a concept for the industry to consider.

Airlines have been packing more passengers into smaller seats over the last few years, and even Airbus, one of the world's largest jet manufacturers, has called for an end to the crush.

Seats with less leg room and thinner seat back cushions have been part of a growing trend in an industry trying to increase profits by fitting more passengers into each jetliner. The squeeze has prompted an outcry from fliers, particularly big and tall travelers.

"We wanted to challenge the current economy seating structure," said Erin Smith, a spokeswoman for Seymourpowell. "We wanted to show that it doesn't all need to be about ramming in more and more people into the economy class, rather we can make it about choice and develop architecture that blurs the boundaries between classes on a seat-by-seat basis."

Earlier this month, French-based Airbus called on the industry to adopt a comfortable standard, at least for the seat width. It released a study recently that says a minimum seat width of 18 inches improves passenger sleep quality by 53 percent, compared with 17-inch wide seats.

"When it comes to flying long haul in economy, an inch makes a huge difference on passenger comfort," said Irshaad Ebrahim, a spokesman for the London Sleep Center, which conducted the study for Airbus.

Airbus said it has always maintained a standard of 18-inch-wide seats but noted that many airlines have installed narrower seats to remain competitive.

The study was based on 1,500 participants at airports in Singapore, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Airlines for America, the trade group for U.S. airlines, rejects the idea of a standardized seat width.

"We believe individual airlines should be able to determine fleet configurations that best meet their customers' needs, as they do today," said Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for the trade group.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun