Staggered Economy Seating Could Be The Future: Is Any Airline Bold Enough?

In recent decades, not much has changed in the economy class cabin. One of the simplest yet most effective way to improve this cabin would be to simply stagger the seats. The armrest war would be no more, personal space would increase and airlines wouldn’t need to sacrifice capacity to do it. But will any airline be bold enough to be first to try this configuration?

Staggered economy seating
Could simply staggering seats slightly be the answer to all our economy class problems? Photo: Molon Labe

Staggered seating could be the biggest change in economy

When it comes to passenger experience, not many have their finger on the pulse of new developments quite like Dr Joe Leader, CEO of the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX). I asked Dr Leader, out of all the innovations we’re seeing in the passenger cabin right now, which one would he most like to push through onto the plane right now? He told me,

“The one that I would push through would be slightly staggered seating. It simply requires a middle seat to be two inches forward or back, and it stops the competition for the armrests.”

Two years ago, Molon Labe received FAA approval for its S1 ‘Space Seat’, a concept that did exactly what Dr Leader is talking about. The S1 not only offsets the passengers horizontally, but also in the vertical space. This means shoulders, elbows, arms and thighs are no longer directly adjacent, giving passengers a real sense of space and more real estate without bumping into neighbors.

Molon Labe
By simply moving the middle seat down and back slightly, all passengers suddenly have more real estate. Photo: Molon Labe

Rebel Aero presented a similar idea with its ‘Joy’ seat design concept. The Joy slightly staggers the middle seat so that passengers’ arms naturally fall in different positions. It also builds in a flip up booster seat, allowing passengers to stretch their legs or to make travel safer for youngsters.

Rebel Aero
Rebel Aero’s seat is similarly slightly offset. Photo: Rebel Aero

Some seat designers have taken this a step further, with Thompson Aero Seating suggesting a more dramatic stagger of each group of three. Its Cozy Suite, revealed a decade ago, means no passenger is directly adjacent to their neighbor, and also builds in a side on headrest for more comfort and privacy onboard.

Cozy Suite
The Cozy Suite takes things a step further. Photo: Thompson Aero

The beauty of these designs, in all cases, is that it’s a win-win for the airline. Not only do they get happier, more comfortable passengers, but they don’t have to sacrifice capacity to do so. The adjustments for the Molon Labe and Joy seats are so minimal there would be no impact on density, while Thompson Aero believes airlines could actually accommodate more passengers with their layout.

Cozy Suite LOPA
Thompson believes even more passengers can be fitted in using the Cozy Suite. Photo: Thompson Aero

No takers yet

Although these seat concepts have been around for some time, and some, like Molon Labe, are certified and ready to install, not one airline has been bold enough to step out of the comfort zone of the economy cabin. Dr Leader, for one, hopes that this will change in the near future. He said,

“I hope that after the pandemic we will see airlines be bold and say you know what, we want to take a chance on that. And by the way, we’d also like additional wings that can go further forward so that there’s visible privacy for passengers.”

Staggered economy seating
It’s a simple adjustment, but no airline offers it yet. Photo: Rebel Aero

The fight to avoid the middle seat is not just about not wanting to rub shoulders with strangers on both sides. It’s also about having some level of privacy, which is more easily achieved in the window or aisle seat. It’s something that could be easily achieved with a newly designed headrest, per the Cozy Suite, or a simpler divider.

Dr Leader believes that adding privacy to the economy cabin is key to upping the game for regular fliers. He noted,

“A semblance of privacy in economy class would go tremendously long way towards making the economy class seating solution better. And I hope that airlines are willing to take a risk and adopt those new innovations.”

To date, no airline has opted for staggered seating, even though it would make life much more comfortable for the economy class flier. What do you think about the idea? Let us know in the comments.

Staggered economy seating
Will any airline be bold enough to make the first move? Photo: Molon Labe

You can hear more from Dr Joe Leader and some of the industry’s leading airlines and suppliers at the forthcoming FTE APEX Virtual Expo – “Relaunching global air transport” – taking place on the 25-26 May.

It promises to be the most comprehensive global industry gathering of the year, championing bold new ideas, solutions, collaboration and innovation efforts through all-encompassing conference sessions to facilitate an industry recovery that makes air transport even stronger in the long term.

View the full list of exhibitors here, or reserve your place today.