Zodiac original

Updated to note that Premium Aircraft Interiors Group once proposed a three-row seat that flips the middle one backwards. Many thanks to John Tighe, design director of JPA Design, for the heads up.

We’ve done it on trains. We’ve even done it on planes (years ago on Southwest Airlines). Sit across from each other, that is.

But now a major seat manufacturer, Zodiac Aerospace, has tabled a concept that would see us sit forwards-backwards-forwards within the same aircraft seat triple. It is envisaged for the short-haul market.

“It’s a different way of traveling, with people facing each other,” Zodiac Aerospace executive VP, communication & investor relations Pierre-Antony Vastra said last week at the Aircraft Interiors Expo when the company unveiled its new concept to Runway Girl Network. He says an airline could accommodate 250 passengers, seated at 31in pitch with this new design.

You’ll note that, similar to movie theatre seats, the seat pan on Zodiac’s concept swivels up once a passenger stands up. This is essential to ensure ingress and egress, and most especially the latter in the event of an emergency.

Some industry wonks and travelers are concerned about moveable seat pans. During a robust conversation on FaceBook about Thompson Aero Seat’s ‘Cozy’ staggered seat – which also features a swivel seat bottom – frequent flyers Stefan Paetow and Leighton Matthews’ first reactions to seeing Cozy were to question whether evacuation could be a problem. Travel analyst Henry Hartevelt suggested that egress concerns may have been among the reasons why Delta Air Lines ultimately opted not to install the Thompson staggered seat (the airline was announced as launch customer for the design in 2008). Routehappy airline research manager Jason Rabinowitz added, “Seat parts fail all the time, but usually not in a way that impedes ingress and egress.”

In theory, however, this is “not an insurmountable problem – and obviously, one that will need to be surmounted by a certain seat maker [Zodiac] shopping an economy forwards-backwards-forwards seat configuration”, noted Routehappy director of data John Walton, in reference to the video below, which I showed him in Hamburg. “The question is whether it sufficiently impedes egress to present certification issues. Thinking about it, I can see an argument that slowing down middle and window passengers slightly could actually speed up egress — fewer people clustering at choke points.”

Beyond ingress and egress, we must also question whether or not passengers would enjoy facing each other. Would this sort of configuration foster a more communal atmosphere, and perhaps even pull us away from our personal electronic devices to – gasp – engage in robust three-way conversation with our seat-mates? Or would the ‘cocooners’ among us (those who like to be left alone in-flight) be uncomfortable?

To be clear, Zodiac’s concept seat is just that, a concept. The manufacturer is eliciting feedback from airlines and passengers. So feel free to let Zodiac know what you think, be it in the comments section of this post or via Twitter to @ZodiacAero.

9 comments

  1. Brian Wohlgemuth

    I think this would make that middle seat even less desirable, unless you were travelling with someone. It obviously fixes the width issue easily.

  2. I am a ‘cocooner’, and any travel time, be it by ground or air transportation, is one of my few “quiet & meditative” moments. So, this kind of seating arrangement is a big ‘no’ for me.

  3. Robb Boscardin

    Comfort aside, there are safety considerations that may render this unusable. First, only the aisle customer has a clear path to the exit in an emergency. Second, preflight safety demos would require a solution as they’re all currently done by FAs facing rearward only. WN had to provide special briefings to those few customers facing rearward; now you’re talking about doing this for a third of the aircraft.

  4. I’m just getting over a nasty cold right now – can only imagine how intimidating it would be to have someone sneezing directly in your face with this kind of configuration… And no more ‘bonus space’ to stretch out in when the middle seat is unsold.

  5. JoEllen

    Oh God no…..I don’t want to feel compelled to give eye contact or engage in conversation. Or worse, how about someone just sitting there staring at me (eating or reading, etc.). At least passengers to the right or left of us are pretty much looking straight ahead or reading or watching something. They are not inclined to turn their heads to the extreme right or left to stare at seatmates.

  6. Bugsy McGerkin

    Documented years ago that the civilian population has no desire to sit in an aircraft facing the rear, even though it is the safest way to be facing in the event of a catastrophic event. Swing up bottoms. It has been proven that the more moving parts on a aircraft seat the more frequent a failure, thereby driving a higher maintenance cost for the airline. Is it not true that the capacity of each airline model is determined by how long it takes X number of people to evacuate an aircraft thru existing escape doors and hatches? If so adding passenger capacity would require a redesign of all existing fuselage’s for both airframes. Also, would you not say goodbye to retrofit business on existing aircraft? Or, with a retrofit does everyone get a really great seat pitch? Finally, it would most likely prove to be a interesting and challenging seat design given that the dynamic testing required would mandate dynamics not currently having to be dealt with in current seat designs. Consequently, such a design just may result in an interesting cost to weight ratio equation. Also, “LC short haul” no longer stands for an airline that only flies single aisle aircraft. Example. SkyMark Airlines is flying A330′s on their domestic routes. Also, not sure the cabin population would enjoy listening to all of the empty fold up seats flopping and rattling during turbulence, much less an empty seat’s behavior during take off and
    landing.

  7. Ian Andrew

    I have always believed that rear facing seats require the floor structure to be stronger as, in an emergency, the load would be applied to the seat at ‘shoulder’ level rather than at ‘lap belt’ level, thus increasing the ‘bending moment’. This being load times distance, which is the reason a crowbar works better than trying to move a load with fingers. Usually additional strength means additional weight.

  8. Erica DeBarr

    As a frequent traveler, I LOVE this option. The increased legroom and no fighting for the arm rest immediately make this a win in my book. Plus you will never have to worry about the “person of size” in your middle seat lifting up the arm rest to encroach on your seat space again!

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