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Many flyers love to complain about comfort in economy class, but also love cheap fares. Do you foresee a point in the next 20 years when long-haul economy is significantly more comfortable?

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One Small Step …

Emil Jacob of Jacob Innovations says airlines should not be afraid to take advantage of unused vertical space to exploit better passenger revenues.

To date there has been no significant improvement in the comfort, particularly in the reclining space available for economy seats on long flights. Premium economy class is a modest beginning in recognising that there is an additional segment of the market between business and economy class. In other words there is an untapped market of economy-class travellers that would be willing to pay an additional price for better seats but not the high prices of a typical business-class seat. Premium economy seats offer a few extra inches in pitch and width but do not provide significantly comfortable reclining. The additional price does not bring enough reclining to make sleep possible.

In order to provide more reasonable accommodations at a feasible price, Jacob Innovations has designed a number of concepts that achieve improved reclining by taking advantage of the unused vertical space available in large aircraft. They are all based on a system of steps no different than any steps we use on a daily basis. The simplest, model which I call ‘Economy Comfort’, would require the following change. Let’s assume in economy class the seat of the passenger in front of me is placed about 7in higher than where it is now. This means that I now have extra space available for my legs to stretch under the seat in front of me; at the same time I can slide my seat forward so that my back rest can recline up to about 45°.

The passenger sitting in the higher seat has more space to recline since the backrest at a higher level does not recline directly into my space, but slightly above. An enclosing shell is desirable to avoid the feeling of encroachment. The above is the design geared for higher density, hence it is the most affordable one. Airlines could make a significant profit by catering to this untapped market. For example companies who do not pay for business-class travel for their employees would be willing to pay an additional amount to have their employees arrive rested and more productive. There are many schemes through which airlines can profit such as offering these seats to frequent fliers.

Other designs by Jacob Innovations LLC are geared more towards business class and can provide the same comfort as conventional business class while improving density. This can be achieved by raising every other seat by a greater height (than the Economy Comfort model above) so that the passenger behind it can extend their legs horizontally under the higher seat.

There are a number of variations that I have designed which bring affordable reclining comfort as well as improve density in Business class by capturing the available vertical space. There would be added advantages such as more space available for carry-on luggage in Business class, faster boarding and deplaning, and others.

In my opinion some form of vertical space usage is bound take place in the industry sooner or later. Given that fuel prices are not expected to fall, the capturing of unused vertical space is the optimal method to improve comfort and increase profits.



1 May 2009


All great ideas on how to improve the profitability of the airline, however there is a breakeven point where leisure travellers will fly less due to the ridiculously claustrophobic conditions that airlines and designers are subjecting their passengers too. Forget that holiday in the Bahamas, imagine sitting on the tarmac in one of these sardine cans with no air conditioner running because the airline is saving fuel!

Andrew Bradley, a project engineer in the automotive industry, South Africa

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