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Solving the Middle Seat Problem: The Business of the Sky

Solving the Middle Seat Problem: The Business of the Sky

Now, I love travelling, but I haaate flying — and it has almost everything to do with the seats. With the wealth gap getting away from us, I understand I will never be one of the chosen few worthy enough of those first-class pods. My wishes are humble: it’d be great to not have to duke it out with my neighbour over an armrest; and, just once, I’d love to be served my tomato juice in a real, live glass!

I can still only dream of the latter, but the FAA has just approved a potential solution for the former: a new seat design for short-haul flights, that also promises to speed boarding and give a bit more room for the unlucky middle-seater.

Called the S1, the new triple-seat configuration will be trialled on real-life planes starting in 2020. In the S1 setup, the middle seat is a few inches lower and further back than the aisle and window seats. This allows the person in the middle seat to use the backs of the armrests, while their neighbours’ elbows occupy the fronts. It also gives everyone involved more legroom, without reducing the plane’s capacity. The seemingly tiny redesign packs a big punch:

‘We have discovered that what looks like a small stagger actually makes a huge difference. The trick is to actually sit in the seat. In fact, our main sales tool is to ship seats to airlines so they can sit in them,’ says Molon Labe founder Hank Scott. ‘I have watched this several times — airline executives see the seat, nod their head and then say they get it. Then we ask them to actually sit down, next to a big fella like our head sales guy Thomas [6-foot-6, 250 pounds]. Within a few seconds, they [really] get it — they stop being an airline executive and switch into passenger modes.’”

To me, the coolest part of it is the optional “side-slip” add-on, where the aisle seat slides over the sunken middle seat, giving boarding or exiting passengers a whole seat-width of extra room. (Is there anyone out there who wouldn’t appreciate not getting conked by someone’s duffel?!) On behalf of Economy-dwellers everywhere, I hope this trial goes well — and we all see this seating innovation on our next vacations!