Best Economy-Class Innovations
Extra legroom, complimentary wines,
iPad docks: some airlines are upgrading the economy-class experience.
New Yorker Marsha Sharpe, 31,
travels constantly for her corporate music business SongDivision—logging trips to Turkey, South Africa,
and across America.
But she’s no longer flying business class. “Economy has become the new black,” says
Fortunately, even as cash-strapped airlines
raise fees and cut services, there’s a countervailing trend that has gone largely
unnoticed by disgruntled travelers: economy class is getting better. Some airlines
are introducing amenities and getting creative with seat design to lure
budget-minded travelers like Sharpe. Where once business class was the primary revenue
engine, it’s increasingly important that every cabin and every seat is both
profitable and comfortable.
This change started in the early
1990s, when safety certification changes forced airlines to tweak their seats
across the craft, explains Vern Alg of Aircraft Interiors Expo. New
materials like aluminums and titaniums have brought about new design
possibilities, he says, and due to the rising price of fuel, “there’s pressure
on airlines to have seats that are lighter and more comfortable.”
Leave it to the Germans to engineer
a simple-yet-brilliant upgrade to economy-class seating. Lufthansa embraced
seat manufacturer Recaro’s pioneering design, purchasing 32,000 new seats
across the fleet. The seats themselves have been thinned down (without
compromising comfort) and the magazine pouch shifted from knee height to behind
the tray table to increase legroom.
There’s no better catalyst for
change than competition, lately in the form of new models: the Airbus A380 and
the Boeing 787. As airline companies snap up these new planes, they have a
chance to reimagine the economy-class cabin in hopes of placating both
profit-seeking shareholders and comfort-craving passengers. Japan’s ANA, for
instance, is outfitting its new 787 fleet with gender-segregated bathrooms that have windows and bidet-toilets (“Washlets”) that
offer warm, pressurized water jets for a fresher clean than one-ply paper.
Of course, not all creative ideas
take flight. The semi-standing Skyrider seat that would offer just 23” of legroom—an experience compared to riding
horseback—was widely shunned last year. But travelers have (literally) embraced
a revolutionary loveseat-like arrangement for couples that Air New Zealand has
nicknamed “Cuddle Class.” It’s an economy-class row of three seats that
converts to a bed with the touch of a button.
Now if only they could come up with
a seat that prevents jet lag.