Everybody complains about sharing airplane armrests, but Michael Batt is trying to do something about it. Considering that no one likes the middle seat anyway, why not sell it as two half seats that occupiers of the aisle and window seats can share?
"There are a lot of people who would pay not to touch elbows with somebody else," said Batt, who flies up to 250,000 miles as year as founder and co-chairman of Travel Leaders Group, an $18 billion corporate travel agency. "They won't buy a whole [second] seat because it seems extravagant, but they might pay a premium for a half-seat."
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At a time when airlines are rolling out increasingly opulent options for those sitting up front, Batt's suggestion is just one of several proposals to make the term "comfortable coach seat" something other than an oxymoron.
"It's one of those problems that a lot of people are taking on as a design challenge," said Rob Green, a senior design engineer at Dyson. "You have to balance the ergonomics—making sure it's comfortable—with getting as many people on board in the smallest amount of space."
It's safe to say that most passengers are fairly certain the balancing act, at least in coach, is in serious need of recalibration.
Enter folks like Alireza Yaghoubi, who as an engineering student in Malaysia won a James Dyson Award last year for his AirGo seat, which aims to protect your personal space even when the passenger in front of you threatens to recline his or her seat into your face.
To accomplish that, AirGo substitutes elastic, form-fitting fabrics for bulky cushions and uses three motors that provide more recline with less intrusion. Add telescoping tray tables and TV screens on articulated arms, and the result looks like a cross between a Nautilus machine and something out of "Star Wars."