Is Flexible Airline Seating The Future? Introducing Checkerboard

Short-haul business class is always a tricky product to get right. With narrowbody planes often performing multiple rotations in a day on many different routes, establishing how many business class seats to install to suit all these different markets can be something of a challenge. Paperclip Design believes it has a great solution; it’s called the Checkerboard.

Checkerboard seating
Don’t know how many business class seats to install? With this product, it can change flight-to-flight. Photo: Butterfly Seats

The business class problem

Airlines love to offer more than one class onboard their flights. While those on a budget always appreciate the no-frills economy class offering, passengers with a little more money to spend are willing to pay the extra for a bit more space and privacy. As such, many full-service airlines will offer both business and economy even on their short-haul trips.

The problem here is that offering a decent short-haul business class product means trying to predict the number of people willing to book those seats on any flight. With most aircraft rotating around various routes and services, the preference for premium seating can change day to day, depending on the route and times the aircraft is flying.

Over at Paperclip Design, they think they’ve got a great solution. Marketed through Butterfly Seating, the Hong Kong-based design agency has produced a concept it calls the ‘Checkerboard,’ which is designed to give airlines maximum flexibility to adapt their business class offering dependent on demand.

Checkerboard seating
Checkerboard allows seats to be converted between business and economy depending on the demand. Photo: Butterfly Seats

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Flexible seating for adaptive layouts

The idea of Checkerboard is that airlines can convert cabins between high-density economy class seating and spacious short-haul business class seating to suit the demand of that route on the day. Alternate seats in a checkerboard pattern can be folded in such a way that it not only gives space and privacy to passengers traveling premium, but also some eight inches of extra legroom.

As an economy cabin product, Checkerboard ticks all the boxes required for the bulk of the plane. Seats have tray tables, high literature pockets for maximum legroom and a high pivot recline that allows passengers comfort without intruding into the space of the person behind.

Checkerboard seating
The seat ticks all the boxes of a normal economy product. Photo: Butterfly Seats

But it’s when it transforms into business class that this product really comes into its own. The cushion of the unused seat folds up and forward, creating a padded armrest for passengers. Folding away the unused armrests increases seat width from 17 inches to 19 inches for window and aisle passengers, and up to 21 inches for those enjoying the middle ‘throne’ seat.

Checkerboard seating
Seat cushions fold up and away for more space. Photo: Butterfly Seats

More than just short-haul business

We’ve all experienced the short-haul ‘business’ class of some airlines, particularly those in Europe, where the middle seat of three is simply blocked and nothing else changes. While on the surface, the Checkerboard appears similar, there’s one key differentiator here that sets it apart.

As the unused seat cushions are folded up and forward, the seat back also swings forward. This has the effect of creating additional living space for the person behind and, crucially, more legroom. Each business class passenger will get an extra eight inches of legroom, creating a much larger differentiation between economy and business, giving those passengers more bang for their buck.

Checkerboard seating
The mechanism provides eight inches of additional legroom for passengers. Photo: Butterfly Seats

It’s an interesting concept that could well be attractive to airlines in the future. The designers say that the conversion can be done in minutes, on the day of the flight. Given the uncertainty facing the industry right now, particularly regarding if and when business travel will recover, it could add an interesting layer of flexibility to their offerings.

For now, Checkerboard is just a concept and has not been picked up by any airlines. It did, however, secure a finalist position at the Crystal Cabin Awards. Perhaps it’s a concept that could see renewed interest in today’s uncertain environment.