What if planes were wider? Airplane interior concept reinvents in-flight seating

Editor’s note – Monthly ticket is a new CNN Travel series that sheds light on some of the most fascinating topics in the world of travel. In June, we’ll take to the skies to learn about the latest developments in aircraft interiors, including the people working to change the way we fly.

(CNN) — You might not know that the standard for today’s airplane seat size dates back to 1954.

It was then that Boeing first flew the prototype that would lead to the iconic 707 of the jet-era.

As Boeing developed its aircraft families, it reused core elements like the fuselage, while developing new wings and engines.

For example, the 727 was basically a 707 but with the engines in the back. The 737 – still manufactured today – was and is essentially a 707 but with two engines instead of four.

The 707’s seats, arranged six in each row in “tourist” or “coach” as the economy was once called, were pretty good for 1954, but that was nearly 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 height and stature to that of a well-rounded 18-year-old. fed today.

All things being equal, you’ll probably notice that people these days are a bit fatter – taller, with wider shoulders and wider hips.

But the Boeing 737 – which has a fuselage width of 148 inches (3.76 meters), just like the 707s – can still accommodate six people in each row.

No wonder planes seem cramped today, even the slightly wider Airbus A320s, which tend to offer an 18-inch seat, or the A220 (designed by Bombardier as the C Series), which offers 19 inches.

Above: a Boeing 707, the manufacturer’s first airliner. Bottom: A Boeing 737-800 in Hannover, Germany, in 2013.

Getty Images, Getty Images

But what if those single-aisle planes were just, well, bigger? That’s a question aviation interior consultancy LIFT Aero Design is asking with a concept called Paradym.

General Manager Daniel Baron and his design partner Aaron Yong are delighted to see that Paradym really needs a new paradigm: wider planes.

“Paradym is a configuration concept for the next generation of single-aisle aircraft,” Baron told CNN.

“It takes a higher level of economy class comfort by using wide triple seats. What’s totally different is the idea of ​​a new single-aisle aircraft that’s considerably wider than today’s 737 or A320 families.” today.

“Each row of Paradym would have wide triple seats, with 20 inches between the armrests instead of the current 17-18. Each row would also have two armrests between the seats instead of one.”

The concept would allow airlines to modify these three seats to offer different levels of service depending on demand, including economy and premium economy. There is also an elongated option.

The changing needs of travelers

LIFT is asking the question at a particularly pivotal time, especially for the narrow-body single-aisle aircraft that make up the bulk of the world’s short-medium-haul fleet, and a tiny but growing part of its long-haul services.

Boeing has extended the 1960s Boeing 737 airframe as far as it can go with the 737 MAX. Airbus is heading down this path with the A320neo, an evolution of the 1980s A320. Add to that the opportunities of hydrogen, and it seems likely that the two aircraft manufacturers will have to build an entirely new aircraft for their next narrow fuselage.

Now it’s time to talk about making this plane a bit wider.

“The simple fact is that in an age of rising airfares, working from home forever, and the coming metaverse revolution, airlines will need to reinvent themselves to stay relevant,” Baron says.

“Long-haul economy class space has shrunk as more space is allocated to premium classes for increasingly luxurious seats. And around the world, humans are getting taller in all Yesterday’s seat width standards may no longer be enough to keep frequent long-haul flights attractive, especially with ultra-long-haul flights now spanning 16-20 hours.”

LIFT Aero Design's concept would allow airlines to tailor an aircraft's interior based on demand.  But first, aircraft manufacturers are going to have to start making larger planes.

LIFT Aero Design’s concept would allow airlines to tailor an aircraft’s interior based on demand. But first, aircraft manufacturers are going to have to start making larger planes.

LIFT Aero Design

Covid-19 has also changed the way many people perceive their own personal “bubble” of space, while increasing rates of onboard disruption caused by unruly passengers seem likely to be linked to the fact that the rows of seats are, in the whole, a few centimeters. closer together than they were in previous years and there are more seats in each row.

When the Boeing 777 first started flying in the 1990s, nearly every major airline had nine economy class seats in each row. Today almost all have 10. When Boeing designed the 787 Dreamliner in the 2000s, it announced a comfortable eight-seat standard and a nine-seat option for low-cost carriers – but, in reality , only Japan Airlines took the seats eight abreast.

From the perspective of an airline accountant, this makes sense. The received wisdom in the aviation industry – and the continued success of low-cost carriers – is that any comfort issues are solved by cheaper ticket prices, and very few passengers choose their flight over anything else. than price and schedule.

“A cabin without curtains or partitions”

Airlines, Baron explains, “have access to highly sophisticated revenue management software to adjust fares, but ultimately they cannot 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 non-economy mid-seat Eurobusiness style seats, but this has now largely been phased out.

“Moving forward,” says Baron, “for airlines, the key to sustainable profitability will be the ability to tailor the entire experience to customer needs.”

These can change even for the same person between trips: a female road warrior has different needs if she’s alone on a one-hour flight to Omaha compared to her family flying eight hours overnight to Europe on vacation.

“We are already seeing a trend of product unbundling,” says Aaron Yong of LIFT, referring to airlines selling individual mini-upgrade products such as seats with more legroom, better meals, access to the lounge, more luggage, etc.

"Paradym is a configuration concept for the next generation of single-aisle aircraft," says Daniel Baron, CEO of LIFT.

“Paradym is a configuration concept for the next generation of single-aisle aircraft,” said Daniel Baron, CEO of LIFT.

LIFT Aero Design

“In the future, the demand for flexibility in terms of seat products and in-flight service options will only increase. In this context, the main advantage of Paradym for airlines is the possibility of selling several products with a single seat model throughout the aircraft.Customers could book any experience offered by the airline, with the airline able to continually adapt to optimize revenue generation for the flight, by using each row of the aircraft, until departure.”

“Paradym envisions a cabin without curtains or dividers,” Yong says, comparing triple seat sets to four-seat sets, or quads.

“The concept of traditional classes is being replaced by products. The airline could sell any row from nose to tail as an economy, economy premium and/or an elongated product, i.e. the customer buys three seats and gets a wide sleeping area almost as long as a quad It could be combined with high-end food, IFE and amenities and sold as “high-end economy apartment”, a whole new product category.”

It may not be for famous names with their well-established brands and well-known brands: Delta One, United Polaris, British Airways Club World, etc.

But new airlines are starting up all the time, and often the old guard realizes that there can be real benefits to the new way of doing things.

Is that enough, however, for Paradym change?

Top image: Paradym Concept by LIFT Aero Design. Credit: LIFT Aero Design

Betty K. Park