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.

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