It’s perhaps fair to say that traveling by plane has never been especially enjoyable for the average person. And the experience continues to worsen for many too; personal space on flights has gotten smaller over the years, while costs for the little extras have risen. Now, however, a daring new type of airplane seat may make time in the skies even more unpleasant.
Italian manufacturer Aviointeriors unveiled the provocative new seating concept at the 2018 Airliners Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany. Emblazoned in bold yellow, the groundbreaking chairs are undeniably eye-catching.
Aviointeriors’ new seat model – named the SkyRider 2.0 – is not brand new; it’s a reworking of a design the company originally introduced in 2010. What’s more, people have flirted with the idea of having standing passengers for almost 20 years. Airbus first mooted the prospect in 2003, and the notion has attracted interest in the air industry ever since.
However, the first stab at SkyRider seats had some issues – ones glaring enough that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration didn’t give its approval to Aviointeriors. That’s perhaps unsurprising, since passengers would truly have had to mount up with SkyRider; apparently, the resulting model was conceived to be in the form of a saddle.
Aviointeriors, which has been in the aircraft industry since 1972, used the example of cowboys to support its daring choice of saddle-like seating on airplanes. That’s right: the Italian firm pointed out that ranchers can ride horseback for hours without any discomfort. Nevertheless, the manufacturer still made some changes to its design when it came to the SkyRider model that would follow.
The SkyRider 2.0 boasts cushier seat padding than the original, for example, as well as rods running from the top to the bottom of the cabin to stabilize each row. But while it would seem that the SkyRider 2.0 is an upgrade from its predecessor, there is still one important fact about the design that can’t be overlooked.
In short, the SkyRider 2.0 is not a seat made for passenger comfort; in fact, it’s not really a “seat” at all. That’s because the SkyRider 2.0 has been developed to transport people in a more or less standing position. Apparently, vertical seating is the ultimate method for packing people into planes like sardines.
On its website, Aviointeriors touts the SkyRider 2.0’s features – the most notable being that the seat allows for “ultra-high density” conditions in the airplane cabin. And the manufacturer has certainly designed the seats to maximize the number of passengers per flight. Indeed, the concept would help cram more people into a plane; there’ll be not only more seats but also closer-spaced rows.
The high-backed seats are also far lighter than those found in many airplanes – weighing half as much as their typical equivalents in economy class. Consequently, SkyRider 2.0s may offer a clear-cut benefit for airlines that choose to adopt them. According to the Aviointeriors website, “The design of this seat enables to increase the passenger number by 20 percent, allowing increasing profits for airline companies.”
But while the SkyRider 2.0 certainly seems to be tailored to the needs of airlines, what benefits does the seat offer to passengers? Well, Aviointeriors addressed the issue of user comfort – to an extent – on its website. According to the Italian aviation company, the SkyRider 2.0 “ensures an increased upright passenger position allowing installation of the seat at a reduced pitch, while maintaining an adequate comfort.”
And although Aviointeriors doesn’t go into detail about what it means by “adequate comfort,” it’s worth noting that the SkyRider 2.0 doesn’t appear to offer any lumbar support or neck cushioning. However, apparently, there are even less appealing options when it comes to airplane seats – as proved by Irish airline Ryanair.
Ryanair introduced the concept of standing seats shortly before Aviointeriors in 2010. Looking for ways to sell more tickets at lower prices, the company proposed to switch out ten rows of plane seats for a standing area. This design would therefore fit far more people on the plane – but it would come at a cost.
On 2010 British TV show How to Beat the Budget Airlines, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary explained that, in order to make space for the standing berth, two of the plane’s lavatories would have to be removed. And since the extra passengers on these flights could overtax the one toilet, the airline would therefore have to charge a bathroom fee to “discourage overuse.”
But while Ryanair hoped to release this concept within two years of the announcement, safety regulators have kept the design from taking off. This may have something to do with the lack of seatbelts included in the plan. Indeed, when O’Leary was asked how the standing area would function, he told The Guardian in 2012, “Same as the London Underground: handrails and straps.”
Gripping a leather strap to steady oneself from turbulence may sound a bit tricky, but at least O’Leary divulged that the plan was to initially use standing room for short trips. He suggested that it could be an ultra-low-budget option available on commuter flights such as those traveling from London to Dublin.
The idea of flying while standing does make some sort of sense, though, especially when you consider the benefits it could have for passengers. For example, one Colombian airline wants to get rid of all airplane seats and run flights with standing only, so that more of the country’s citizens can travel by air.
VivaColombia announced that it was investigating the idea because the seatless flights would be cheaper, thus allowing working-class people to see more of Colombia. “We’re very interested in anything that makes travel less expensive,” VivaColombia’s founder and CEO William Shaw said to the Miami Herald in 2017.
Just as in the case of Ryanair’s proposal, VivaColombia standing-only flights would only cover short distances. “Who cares if you don’t have an in-flight entertainment system for a one-hour flight? Who cares that there aren’t marble floors… or that you don’t get free peanuts?” Shaw argued.
However, although the CEO of the budget airline makes a solid point about the benefits of standing flights, there are other issues to be considered besides passenger comfort – namely, safety. This is the one major challenge that has delayed any real testing or implementation of alternate airplane seating.
In the case of the SkyRider 2.0, aircraft specialists have cited safety issues with the seat that include possible hold-ups in the event of evacuation, thanks to the tight space available. There would also be no underseat area for passengers’ belongings. So, while according to Aviointeriors, the SkyRider 2.0 may be “the new frontier of low cost tickets and passenger experience,” the seat design doesn’t look likely to get off the ground any time soon.