No, this is not the worst idea for airplane seating ever.

alternating seating patent drawing
Public Domain Patent application for Zodiac alternating seating

Blog post headline writing is not an art anymore; it has become a science with testing and surveying to make you click. It's hard not to click on Gizmodo's We Cannot Allow This Awful Idea for Airplane Seating to Become Real or Wired's Hey look at the most nightmarish idea for plane seating ever. They are both clickbait for stories about Zodiac Aerospace's patented new HD 31 (High Density 31 inch) seat design. And I think they are both wrong.

As TreeHugger has noted before, the greenest way to fly is economy; the higher the passenger density, the lower the CO2 emissions per person. That's normally done by tightening up the pitch (the distance between seats) to the point where there is hardly any space between you and the seat back of the person in front anymore. It's become a miserable experience for many.

© Zodiac Aerospace

The Zodiac seats alternate directions, so that you have more shoulder space. Being small, I have never had a problem with rubbing shoulders, but hate armrest wars more than anything. These no longer happen. The design also increases the distance between you and the next row by 15%, a full four inches, because of the way the seats jog in and out.

© Zodiac Aerospace/ much more room to get into your window seat.

There is another great thing about the Zodiac- the seats flip up. Currently the pitch is so tight that it is hard to get into a window or center seat, you have to sort of slither sideways. With flip-up seats you just walk in.

The biggest complaint appears to be that you are looking into your neighbor's face. Or as Adam Clarke Estes notes at Gizmodo:

But you know what’s worse than staring at the back of a seat in front of you? Staring at a total stranger who’s probably a mouth-breather with a bad nail-biting habit. What’s even worse than that is the new staggered design also ensures that you’re flanked by two more strangers’ faces.

I am not so sure. The stranger's face is 31 inches in front of you as well as 20 inches to the left or right, instead of just 20 inches to the side. Yes, you are facing them, but they are further away.

Alfred Hitchcock/ Strangers on a Train/Screen capture

And then there is the issue of sociability. I often enjoy talking to my neighbors on a plane and this definitely will make it easier if you want to. As Alfred Hitchcock demonstrated, all kinds of things can happen when you meet strangers on a train, where people often used to face each other. It might actually be more civilized.

What do you think?


Tags: Airlines | Designers

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