Lonely Planet Writer

The future of plane seats: analysed

Man has made large metal people carriers fly. From here on in, it's all just a tweaking of the original concept: fly it faster, make the plane bigger, put a gym on it, or make it see-through.

Recently, the changes seem to have been all about airline seating - whether luxury-ing them up or trying to give new meaning to the term cattle class - and let's face it, the subject of seats tends to get a passenger very fired up. So we thought we'd take a look at the most recent developments (possibly) coming to a plane near you.

Cuddle class
Air New Zealand is introducing 'SkyCouch' seats on its new Boeing 777-300 planes - and they're hoping to sell the concept to other airlines. This means that two passengers will now be able to buy a third seat for the cost of a half-price ticket. Like a Transformer, the three seats swivel, retract and bend to turn into lie-flat seating. There are other benefits including a larger entertainment screen.
Pros: more room for less, good for families, possibility of sleep on long-haul flight
Cons: snuggling couples

Saddle seats (aka the standing up plane seats)
It was hard to miss the news about the SkyRider seats. Unveiled this year by Aviointeriors, an Italian aircraft seat design company, you could feel the excitement at Ryanair from here. USA Today reported that they 'would give passengers an experience akin to riding horseback.' Well if horses were able to ride with no more than 23 inches of space between them...
cheaper, a good way to avoid DVT, sympathy for battery hens
possible loss of dignity, proximity to other people

Pre-reclined seats
When is a seat advancement not about fitting more people in? Spirit Airlines announced earlier this year that it would install pre-reclined seats to save space, and cut down on fuel costs (because the seats are comparatively lighter).
the guy in front of you can't make you spill your G&T with a sudden recline manoeuvre
Cons: difficult to annoy the teenager behind you with a sudden recline manoeuvre

Advertisements on plane seats
Late last year, American low-cost carrier AirTran started putting ads on the back of fold-up trays - hey passengers are just sitting there and looking ahead, why not make money from their eyeballs?
Pros: keeps flights cheaper (hopefully)
Cons: just another space where your brain is bombarded

Passengers facing each other
UK company Design Q revealed a whole new plane layout late in 2009 - where passengers face each other, train-style on either side of the plane. The reduced seat weight would mean more could be crammed in and fares would fall. We're not sure if any airlines are currently exploring this new seating plan.
Pros: locking eyes with lovely stranger now enabled, cheaper flights
Cons: awkward eye contact, no hot drinks (risks of spillage too high)

Flying in economy is now, more than ever, an experience where it pays to like other people. First class on the other hand is an increasingly lonely experience. Your own sleeping pod? How alienating.

And if travel is about meeting people in interesting conditions, then plane seat developments - well in economy class at least - are all about giving you a complete travel experience from the moment you step on board.