Plane seat design: Benches not seats could allow more room for overweight passengers

Obese passengers could be given more room on planes if rows of benches instead of individual seats are introduced by airlines.

This appears to be the plans of Airbus after the aircraft manufacturer filed a patent for bench seating in planes that can be adjusted to fit the space needs of the passengers, whether it's for families with small children, customers with mobility issues or men or women who require more width than others.

The "re-configurable passenger bench seat" could put an end to the debates and disputes revolving around the varying circumference of fliers. Just last year, a man on an Etihad Airways flight sued the airline, accusing it of forcing him to contort his body for long periods because of the "grossly overweight" person in the next seat.

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There have also been numerous calls for larger passengers to pay for extra seat space, with Samoa Air introducing a passenger charge by weight, rather than per seat, in 2013. The same airline then unveiled a new "XL class" to cater for larger customers, creating a wider row for passengers weighing more than 130kg. 

Airbus does not outline how the exact pricing for a bench space might work, but says "in modern means of transport, particularly in aircraft, optimum utilisation of the space available in a passenger cabin is of major economic importance".

The patent, filed last year but published this month, read: "The cabin layout, particularly the layout of the passenger seats arranged in the passenger cabin, such as the allocation of a row of passenger seats to business class or to economy class for example, should be as flexibly, rapidly and easily re-configurable as possible.

"In addition, efforts are made to design the passenger cabin of a commercial aircraft in such a way that flexible adaptation of the cabin layout to the requirements of specific user groups, such as, for example, families with small children, senior citizens, people with restricted mobility, etc., is possible."

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The bench would feature adjustable seatbelt locks, to ensure each passenger can still be strapped in.

Airbus's patent is the latest in a number of ambitious plans to transform the way we fly.

A Zodiac Aerospace patent in December imagined how passengers might be better accommodated in the hold – with tv screens playing images from the outside, rather than actual windows.

While an Airbus design from October considered introducing a mezzanine level in planes so that passengers could sit above their fellow fliers.

Another Zodiac design from 2015 had passengers facing each other, in alternating backwards and forwards seats to increase a plane's seating capacity.

As with any patents, however, there's no guarantee flight benches will be on any of your trips in the near future. But there just might come a time when it's not only your hand luggage that is measured before boarding.

The Telegraph, London

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