Some 3.8 billion people get on board jetliners every year to fly to numerous destinations around the world. But while this doesn’t mean that more than half of the world’s population fly annually—since a many people fly multiple times a year—a great number of individuals do so for the first time, and many others have flown at least once in their lifetime. The Air & Space Magazine by Smithsonian actually estimates that as much as 80 percent of Americans have actually taken to the sky at least once in their life.
As air travel became less of a luxury and more of a necessity over the years—not only in the U.S. but in many developing countries around the world—comfort has also become an increasingly important issue for travelers everywhere. As researchers have noted in one conference paper for the International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics, passenger comfort is one of the most important variables on user acceptance of transport systems, and it is directly associated with passenger satisfaction and their willingness to fly again in the future.
Critical findings that point to the importance of passenger comfort in attracting customers and encouraging repeat business should then behoove aircraft designers and airline managers to concentrate on and improve on factors and issues that affect the overall passenger comfort experience. In this short article, we’ll discuss two of the most important seating-related elements that affect this experience: seat size and seat pitch.
It is by no means a secret that seat size is one of the most important factors influencing passenger comfort, especially for those seated in economy class. When it comes to seat size, the seat width is taken into consideration, which means the distance from armrest to armrest is measured.
While aircraft manufacturer Airbus has previously commissioned a study that showed an extra inch in seat size improved passenger sleep quality by 53 percent, commercial airliners today don’t follow a standard for seat sizing, as they offer varying seat widths of between 16 inches to 20 inches.
Moreover, according to the website SeatGuru.com, the average seat size of jetliners has diminished from 46 centimeters (18.11 inches) to just 43 centimeters (16.9 inches) in the last two decades, which doesn’t conform to the trend of increasing average weight and waistlines of American passengers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the overall weight gain among Americans since 1960 is now 18.5 percent among women and 17.6 percent among men.
On the other hand, business class seats in jetliners tend to be significantly wider, with Hong Kong Airlines currently offering the widest business class seats available anywhere—42 inches on its Airbus A350-900 (359) planes.
Seat Pitch and Legroom
Another seating-related element of passenger comfort is the seat pitch, which influences how much legroom an individual gets when seated in an aircraft. Seat pitch is defined as the distance between one point on an aircraft seat to the same point on the seat directly in front of it.
Based on data gathered by SeatGuru.com, the average economy class seat pitch has also declined in the last two decades, falling from 89 centimeters (35 inches) to just 79 centimeters (31.1 inches) today. And as with seat size, seat pitch is also more generously afforded to business class passengers. Currently, Qatar Airways offers the longest business class seat pitch at 103 inches on its Airbus A350-1000 (351) Qsuite planes.
Fortunately, some aircraft manufacturers incorporate advanced seat actuation systems in their airplanes, therefore vastly improving the passenger comfort experience for travelers. The different parts of the seat—the footrest, the leg rest, and the recline axes—all move smoothly and efficiently, attaining their desired configuration thanks to the compact but high-torque brushless and brush DC coreless motors that power their seat actuation system.
Moreover, aircraft manufacturers are now implementing design solutions to increase actual passenger legroom on jetliners. By modifying the ergonomics of the seat backs, using cushioning technologies that are thinner and lighter, and employing aluminum seat frames that are able to move as the passenger sits, up to 4 inches of additional legroom can be added to each economy class seat.
Naturally, it’s still up to the airline companies themselves to implement any of these available solutions. But as air travel becomes cheaper and many more players join the fray in attracting the increasing number of global travelers every year, it will be in these airline companies’ best interests to execute measures that will make their transport services more palatable to potential passengers.