These New Airplane Seats Could Make Economy Feel Like First Class (Video)

The new seat is light enough to get airlines interested and smart enough to make passengers happy.

For too long, economy seats have been built with a one-size-fits-all mindset, resulting in a one-size-fits-few reality. Innovation in economy seating has been scarce, and adjustable seating a nearly impossible dream.

But a new seat design, developed through an Airbus Innovation Lab collaboration with strategic design agency LAYER, may have cracked the code on the economy seat of the future.

LAYER's Founder and Creative Director Benjamin Hubert designed the seating concept — called "Move" — around smart elements that help the seat adapt to the size and needs of each individual passenger. Smart textiles, which link to a handy mobile app, let passengers monitor and control comfort factors including seat tension and temperature from their phone.

LAYER Concept Seat Design for Airbus
Courtesy of LAYER

"At LAYER, we believe good design should be accessible to all," Hubert said. "All too often, new concepts for flying are focused on innovation in business class. We were excited to take on this project with Airbus to find ways to improve and add value to the economy class experience – for both the passenger and the airline."

The lightweight structure of the "Move" seat is similar to modern ergonomic chairs, with a perforated composite frame that is fitted with a knitted, one-piece sling seat.

LAYER Concept Seat Design for Airbus
Courtesy of LAYER

The cover that makes up the sling seat is made with a polyester wood-blend textile that has conductive yarn in the weave. This yarn connects to sensors that measure passenger biometrics like temperature, seat tension, pressure and passenger movement. Passengers can use their Move app to switch seat settings from massage to meal time to sleep. The app can also remind passengers when they need to move to avoid discomfort, and will even suggest in-flight exercises.

Embedded sensors also help the smart seat adapt automatically to the passenger's weight, size and type of movement to reduce pressure points. The knit of the seat cover is thicker where cushioning is needed, and the conductive threads contract the fabric to fit the seat around the body.

Crucially, the concept seat does not recline, negating the heated debate over whether reclining on a plane is okay. "Move" has a fixed back, but adjustable elements leave room for passengers to stretch.

Other smart features include adjustable tray tables, options for in-flight entertainment and power outlets, and detachable armrests that let couples and groups sit together more comfortably.

The tray table is stowed vertically on this seat and can be folded to half-size for beverages or to hold tablets while passengers watch their own entertainment. They can be unfolded to full-size when passengers want to eat or get some work done. Of course, there are already folding tray tables on several airplanes — but the neat trick in this particular design is that the height of the tray table is adjustable. This makes the seat far more comfortable to use for different in-flight activities, leaving more knee room for taller passengers and providing easier access for shorter passengers.

The curved headrest creates a place to rest your head when you sleep, without slumping onto the shoulders of your fellow passengers.

LAYER Concept Seat Design for Airbus
Courtesy of LAYER

A central island on the seat-back that holds the adjustable tray table also includes a small pocket for storage of personal items. There is a special stowing area on the side of the seat designed to hold passengers' laptops securely.

Passengers won't be losing their stowed devices, either. The smart seat's pressure-sensitive yarns can notify passengers after landing if they've left something behind.

The concept took 18 months to develop and is intended for short to mid-haul flights. But don't get too excited just yet — "Move" still has to go through the long process of prototype development to certification and manufacturing—and it would need an airline to bring it onboard. But considering its eco-friendly features —less weight, less dependence on foams, and covers that are easy to remove and keep clean— airlines might just invest.

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