The Knee-Crunching Saddle Seat is a Good Idea, But it Won’t Fly

Ok, so I didn’t actually take the new saddle seat for a test ride. I mean, it was a static display in the Airline Interiors Expo hall, but I did get to sit in it for awhile and check it out. The verdict? It’s absolutely uncomfortable, but I think it’s a great idea. Kudos to Aviointeriors for at least trying to come up with a solution that matches passenger demand. The only problem? I can’t see how this passes regulatory hurdles. So I suppose I should put those kudos on ice.

You’ve heard about this thing, right? Well, if not, take a look at this bad boy:

The Saddle Seat

But that picture doesn’t really tell the story. Instead, take a look at this picture with me squeezing myself into the second row.

Aviointeriors Saddle Seat Legroom

As you can see, I’ve got a wedgie like no other. Kind of like when I first went horizontal in an angled lie-flat seat. The seat itself isn’t very comfortable. It has no moving parts, so tall people are in real trouble. (You’d think they’d have an up and down function for tall people, but that adds parts and weight. They may need to rethink that.) It doesn’t recline either. There is a tray table, but good luck using it for anything. Oh, and the armrests are even narrower than in coach. That combined with the fact that the saddle seat pushes your legs sideways means you’ll have a very intimate experience with your next-door neighbor.

Aviointeriors Saddle Seat

So, uh, what do I like about this? Well, there are a lot of people that just want cheap fares. This seat weighs a lot less than a regular seat (the goal is to get it under 5kg per seat) and it takes up a lot less space. So that means lower fares can mean higher profit. This seat has 23 inches of pitch, which means that it’s 23 inches from the front of one seat to the front of the next seat. Compare that to a roughly industry standard 31 inches, and you can fit a lot more in a space.

Let’s look at a Spirit A321. Spirit has roughly 30 to 31 inches of pitch, but let’s just assume it’s 31 inches for simplicity sake. Here’s what the back cabin would look like with the saddle seat.

Spirit Saddle Seat Mock

Instead of 82 seats in the back cabin, you can probably squeeze 112 in. Pretty good, eh? But let’s put this another way. If Spirit needs to make $75 per seat on a given flight to break even today, adding the saddle seat in that back section could bring in the same amount of revenue at only $55 per seat. That’s a big difference for the passenger.

I don’t see this kind of seat as being the kind of thing most airlines would want, but even those that do wouldn’t outfit their entire cabins with this seat. Think of it as Economy Minus. (or, on United, Economy Minus Minus.) I could see low cost airlines with a large percentage of short haul flights looking to take advantage of this seat. Think of Spirit, Allegiant, Air Asia, and yes, Ryanair. If the price is right, people will do it. It’s the right fit for some airlines, and I imagine we’ll see someone try something similar at some point.

But there is one huge, ugly problem. Regulation. The Aviointeriors people said that they’ve been in touch with the regulatory bodies and they don’t foresee a problem, but I do. In particular, I wonder if these seats will be able to meet evacuation test rules which require everyone to be out of the plane within a certain amount of time. Also, the seatbelt wasn’t on the seat, but it rides really low over your legs. I think that may need to be changed. (I wish it had a harness to keep you from spilling over and prevent you from breaking your skull on the seat in front.)

But if they can get past the regulatory problems (and that’s a HUGE “if”) this seems like a great idea to me. I, however, will be happy to pay more for a real seat.


41 Responses to The Knee-Crunching Saddle Seat is a Good Idea, But it Won’t Fly

  1. Michael H says:

    Sorry Cranky, but I simply wouldn’t fly an airline that chose to have this seating in their fleet.

    I follow closely some of the Aviation journalists who attended the event, such as Mary Kirby from FlightGlobal (Blogs and tweets as Runway Girl) – who I first heard about this seat from. As cute as Mary is, she’s a 6ft Glamazon and she found the seat extremely uncomfortable after only five minutes. She also ended up with one very bruised knee, which was show in a 2min 30sec video broadcast on the CBS Morning Show by another reporter.

    However, that’s not the main reason I wouldn’t sit in these seats or fly an airline who carries them. My main reason is that the people behind these seats are rude and insensitive. Mary and others made comment, and it was even shown in the video albeit milder than expressed by others, at the rude, untoward and frankly offensive comments made to industry professionals, journalists and the like who tried out the seats and expressed their frank and honest views.

    Sorry, but regardless of what you think of the product or how deeply you’re invested in it – the way in which they treated these people is no way to sell your product or convince people of its merits. Sure, these seats if approved (unlikely as it may be) will go to airlines who have passengers without morals or deep pockets.

    However, I’m not going to see myself funding in any way, shape or form these rude, horrible people if this is how they treat professionals.

    • Allan says:

      I saw that new segment and the company representative, when asked how a heavier adult would be able to sit responded by suggesting they lost weight. Not the best approach to selling a product.

    • CF says:

      Why wouldn’t you fly an airline that chose to have this as another option in their fleet? I mean, I don’t want to sit in these things, but as long as I could pay more to sit in a regular seat, then I have no problem at all with them offering this as an additional option. Yeah, the Aviointeriors guys weren’t exactly friendly, but other manufacturers could look to do a similar thing if they wanted. I’m not suggesting that this exact seat is the holy grail but rather that the idea makes sense, except for the regulatory issues.

      • An option today is the norm the next day if an airline can get away with it. Hey, I heard that RYAN AIR is in negotiations to purchase 500 to start fleet trials! ( not really)

  2. Rand says:

    Thanks for the report on these new seats. I’ve read about them but this is my first look. I’m not impressed and certainly wouldn’t look forward to commuting to/from work in this rather uncomfortable looking mechanism.

  3. Shane says:

    Funny that there was a BBC report on the seat yesterday that was talking about how the position is much better ergonomically, comparing it to the half-kneeling benches that monks used for extended scribing sessions in the middle ages, and that if done properly this would be a more comfortable and healthier position than today’s standard coach seat. However, it sounds like the designers of this seat haven’t really completed their research and homework for comfort of average passengers, much less adjusting for tall & short fliers and children.

    I think you are right that the safety issues will be the biggest hurdle. How to keep a 6 y.o. from flying out of the seat during turbulence, enough restraint to keep a 6’4″ guy/gal from bashing their head on the seat in front of them in a quick braking situation (or a really boring movie). Another problem from the ergonomics is the potential litigation from passengers who may suffer stress injuries from a long flight in an ergonomically incorrect position for extended time (don’t be folled with the short-haul arguement, a majority of the flights for the airlines named here are over 2 hours).

    If they spend the money on getting the ergonomics right, this really could be a less expensive and more comfortable way to fly.

  4. Pingback: This Week in Travel – September 17, 2010 | Conquering the Century Club

  5. J Peter says:

    What would putting 40 more bodies in the “back of the bus” do to weight and balance for the aircraft? Might make it a bit tail heavy and perhaps beyond the aft center of gravity limit – definitely not good.

    • fred says:

      Well the seats are significantly lighter, which makes up for some of the weight.
      Another big problem would be storage – there is really no under-seat storage even for your ‘personal item’. That and having 112 people’s luggage instead of 84 for the overhead bins would mean trouble, even with Spirit charging for carry-on bags. Maybe they would ban carry-on bags altogether and have size limits for your personal item…

      • CF says:

        There actually is a little underseat storage. They had a metal pan that sits on top of it. But that’s not going to fit much more than your personal item. Maybe as part of this Economy Minus, you have to check your bags. Who knows.

    • joe says:

      Baggage loading procedures would likely change to counter the center of gravity shift.

  6. Jeffc says:

    Can you imagine the first overweight (fat!) passenger that bought one of these seats on “Cattle Car” Airlines and tried to fit into it ? Not a pretty thought or sight. This idea will not fly.

  7. Getting past the major issues of comfort and safety, no reports I have read mentioned the maximum certified seating capacity limitation that all airliners have. For example, the 321 is only certified to hold 220 passengers in a high density single class configuration. My best count of the picture above indicates 252 seats. Airbus would have to add more exits and redo it’s certification trials for the aircraft. That’s not going to happen. The only other possibility would be adding a bunch of low density seats to bring the total count below 220. Even in that scenario, they would likely have to redo a evacuation test to see if it takes longer to get out of the saddle than a regular seat.

    Cranky touches upon the evacuation issue in the general sense, but I haven’t heard anyone address the maximum certified passenger load, which is determined by evacuation trials.

    • Oliver says:

      No need to evacuate — you’ll wish you were dead after 10 mins in this torture chamber anyway ;)

    • CF says:

      Very true, and since aircraft manufacturers don’t work with Aviointeriors, this would have to be a retrofit after the airplane is delivered. But there are still ways this could work. For example, I know easyJet took its A319s with two overwing exits so it could increase capacity. That might work for them. It could also work if you decided to add more of a premium economy up front, so that you end up spreading the capacity around. A ton of regulatory issues for sure.

  8. joe says:

    If you are in the window seat and have to go to the bathroom, it will be fun trying to get out.

  9. Oliver says:

    “Kudos to Aviointeriors for at least trying to come up with a solution that matches passenger demand.”

    And what would that passenger demand be, to be tortured during the flight?

  10. Ann H says:

    I usually agree with you, Cranky, but not today. In what way does this meet consumer demand? No one wants to be uncomfortable and cramped in ever-decreasing cabin space. It’s crazy to say the least (not YOU, mind you, just the saddle seat idea).

    • CF says:

      Customers want cheap fares. This enables cheaper ones.

      • Josh says:

        Actually, what it will enable is the current “cheapest” fares to remain the same and the airlines (e.g., Spirit or Ryanair) to start charging more for regular seats. These things, if they ever become certified to be on a commercial airliner, will become the base airfare and then you’ll have to upgrade to standard seats if you want to actually SIT while flying.

        On another note, I hope nobody on the window side of one of these things would need to use the restroom.

      • Brett, most passengers will go for less expensive fares, no doubt about it. However, the flying public – sensibly – draws a line in the sand when “options” or “cost saving ideas” verge on the rediculous. Like RYAN AIR wanting to eliminate some restrooms, or create pay toilets on flights. I’m afraid this hairbrain idea was really a publicity stunt to gain name recognition. Personally, I would never even consider riding a bicycle seat on a flight of ANY duration. One very hard landing and most male passengers would be in agony trying to walk off the aircraft!

  11. joe says:

    That thing might be OK for a very short haul flight, but imagine getting stuck on the tarmac in one of those. Even at the max of 3 hours, being in that seat for that long would be torture.

  12. Clip says:

    Ok, let’s see they are uncomfortable, cramped and potentially unsafe … sounds to me as if congress came up with the idea. A strap hanging above each seat would add to the ambience…gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “cheap seats.”

  13. giles says:

    OK, you will require one or possibly two more flight attendants, plus jumpseats for them. Recertify the aircraft. Evac demo would have to be redone. Exit rows would probably have to be exempt, so you could charge a lot more for those. No room for carry on beneath the seat in front of you. And pretty much guarantee no room in the overheads by the time you board. Weight and balance would definitely be a major issue; stick 60 to 80 more 200 pounders on board an A321 and the numbers are a problem.
    And, oh yeah, bruised knees, sore backs, spilled drinks, fist fights and the continued downward slide of what used to be a magnificent industry.

    • David M says:

      What overheads? Passengers in these things will effectively be standing. Ever try standing up at your seat in a 737 or A320? Sure, if you’re Verne Troyer, you can. But not if you’re Mary Kirby. Since passengers will be basically standing in these things, they’ll have to remove the overhead bins so that people have enough legroom.

  14. I think a plane load of college kids who hit the airport bar before boarding their flight to Lauderdale for spring break would not have a problem with them, everyone else would.

    Can’t see anyone wanting to be in one of those for even a really short flight. If my elderly mother sat in that she would think she was falling forward and be scared.

    But if say the last 5 rows of the plane were fitted with those seats and they sold special low fares that you could only sit in those seats you may find people to do it at least once. But if the airline over sold the flight (they never do that right!) and I was told I had to sit in one of those seats, I would not be on that flight.

    Cranky did they make people who were wearing underwear that day sign a release before you could sit in the seat? You wouldn’t sue if your undies got stuck somewhere and had to be removed by a trained medical professional…LOL

  15. Mark Brown says:

    Directly related to the weight issue is the increased fuel usage and the corresponding reduction in range. Larger planes would either be required to have a mid-transcon fuel stop (as US 321s now have to do westbound with the additional Y they added) or just be placed on shorter routes.

  16. I saw the seatmap in this post and I thought, ah, glad to see one of our SeatGuru seat maps in one of Brett’s posts. Then I realized that Spirit “borrowed” the graphics from SeatGuru to create their seatmaps. I’d say they owe me a flight for that, but there’s no way I’m getting near their 28″ pitch (or future saddle seats).

  17. bellsmyre says:

    “Cheap fares”! They’d need to pay me to sit in that damned thing.

  18. For RyanAir specifically, I wonder how an IFE would be wedged into this. Looks like they’d have to be putting the usual underwear pieces somewhere else. Given That the IFE is one of the ways RyanAir makes their business profitable, it’s important.

  19. What is interesting about the decreasing seat pitch and space in general, combined with dropping fares, is that people want one without the other. It’s funny to see people wanting deeply discounted fares, but not really willing to sacrifice anything for it.
    Daniel

  20. SirWired says:

    Are my eyes deceiving me, or is that bent and welded bicycle tubing that forms the seat base? I do not see how that could EVER be strong enough to meet g-force requirements and only weigh 5kg.

  21. David says:

    I fly Ryanair frequently as a leisure passenger out of my own choice – mainly because they are cheap. I’m not at all sure that I like the idea of this seat. However, I have to give kudos to Aviointeriors – by doing a mock-up of the seat, it’ll get other people thinking. Maybe it’ll just disappear into obscurity, but maybe someone will come up with an improved version that satisfies some of the concerns that others have to allow it to go into common use. Innovation rarely succeeds at the 1st attempt without a bit of tweaking

  22. Stardust says:

    These “new seats” are a guaranteed misery seat for anyone dumb enough to think they can remain seated in them for more than an hour….when was the last time any of you went horsebackriding (or mountain biking)…and how did you feel when you stepped down off that “horse”..this isn’t one bit different ….guaranteed we’d all be bow legged and searching for a way to remove the wedgie by the time the flight ended…….

  23. Rob Bohn says:

    One problem – women in skirts.

  24. I don’t feel the seats are comfortable. They are very small. Tall and fat people cannot accommodate their selves. Imagine how they can get out, if they want to use the rest room. Cranky Fliers have to rethink about this.

  25. I am sorry to have mentioned as “Cranky Fliers” instead of “Spirit Airlines”

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