As you might expect there is much more to the aircraft seat than meets the eye. We caught up with Husam Hamdan, and Dave Napper from our design and development (cabin) team, to discover more about the fabulous flying furniture that is our economy class seat.
History of aircraft seats
As passenger flying became more popular and the airmail subsidies were removed the first real passenger cabins came into existence. Early aircraft still used wicker seats, although thankfully, they were bolted to the airframe. The big advantage of wicker was that it was lightweight, something that was as important then as it is today.
As aircraft evolved so did the seats and the regulations that governed them. The first metal frame seats appeared after the second world war and with them the requirement to withstand crash testing to six times the force of gravity (6g). That was raised to 9g with the dawn of the jet age. Back in the 50s and 60s, despite being known as the golden age of travel, aircraft seats lacked many of the vital safety features they have today. Seat design has come a long way since then and in 1988 new regulations decreed all seats had to withstand forces of 16g with a host of other inbuilt safety requirements.
But before they can go shopping for seats, they need to lock down the cabin design. There are over 100 different configurations that can be applied to an Airbus A350. Our commercial and Network Planning teams needs to decide how many Economy, Upper Class and Premium seats to install and how to configure cabins bearing in mind the customer mix and routes that the aircraft will be flying. Choices are made about which galleys to install, number of lavatories, where to put the walls and ‘monuments’ (airline speak for cabin dividers and other features that are not seating) and where the emergency equipment is stowed. Everything needs to fit around the doors, and the aisles need to be wide enough to evacuate the aircraft quickly. The configuration is finalised on a highly detailed seat map called a LOPA (Layout of Passenger Accommodation) which needs to be approved by airline regulators and the aircraft manufacturer before work can start.
Only a handful of companies make aircraft seats and the choice of seat frame is limited, purely because getting them through the regulatory approvals is a long process. However, airlines can customise seats to include their choice of trim, fabrics, padding, entertainment systems and host of optional extras.
Once the seat frame is decided, we need to choose the seat foam and fabric, and there’s a lot to consider. For example, our Recaro Economy seats, offer a choice of different foam types which need to be assessed for durability and comfort. Like every decision we make sustainability is a big priority, and the covers and cushions need to be recyclable.
The anatomy of aircraft seats
From a design perspective, the seats must have just the right angles to be both comfortable, be able to recline whilst not adversely affecting fellow passengers. The designers will have thought about the multitude of seating positions our customers use for comfort during our worldwide flights.
The cushions and seat covers need to be durable enough to be sat in for up to 20 hours a day, 7 days a week. They must survive being slept in, pummelled by fidgety children (and adults) and have any number of things spilt on them. The seat fabrics need to be easy to clean, easy to remove, and easy to replace and must have the highest fire-retardant properties.
Every aspect of your seat is engineered and tested to incredible standards. The way the seat behaves in an emergency and how quickly you can get out of it in is of utmost importance. Safety is our top priority.
A significant part of any modern airline seat is the entertainment system. It’s a sophisticated, tough, robust system that delivers high quality visual and audio entertainment. It needs to be long lasting, easy to maintain and durable enough to withstand a multitude of customers pressing the buttons, getting to know it and exploring the vast library of programmes loaded by our onboard media team. To our customers, our in-flight entertainment is as important as the seat itself.
In the world of aviation everything is tightly regulated, and the seats are no exception. Every nut and bolt of every seat has to comply with reams of rules and regulations and comply with ‘technical standards orders’ and ‘EASA ETSO’s (that’s the ‘European aviation safety agency European technical standard orders’ in case you’re wondering). If the recline doesn’t work, for whatever reason, the seat must be taken out of service. Similarly, if the tray table won’t stay up, the seat can’t be occupied, nor can any seat with access to the aisle blocked by that seat. Even the little seatback pocket which contains your inflight literature is mandatory. Its purpose is to make sure you have easy access to vital safety information.