This Airplane Manufacturer Thinks It Can Make the Middle Seat Better

Here's how one company is tweaking the design of the dreaded middle seat

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If you’re fed up with waiting behind a line of people on the plane trying to squeeze their bags and coats in crowded overhead bins before you can get to your own seat, Colorado-based Molon Labe Seating believes it has solved the boarding traffic jam.

The company’s “Side-Slip” model moves seats out of the way, more than doubling the width of the aisle from a standard 20 inches to 42 inches.

The sliding seat mechanism is easy to operate: With the push of a button, flight attendants or cabin maintenance crew could move the seats into open-aisle positions prior to boarding. Passengers could then quickly slide and lock the seats in place.

And as an added benefit, the Side-Slip model offers middle-seat passengers more room. At 21 inches, the middle is a full three inches wider than the window and aisle seats. The middle seat also sits slightly lower and back, which makes it less likely the passenger will be rubbing shoulders with fellow passengers on either side. And Molon Labe has made shareable armrests standard, so every passenger gets elbow room.

While the idea of a seat that makes the aisle wider is attractive, most airlines don’t board their planes back-to-front. Hank Scott, CEO of Molon Labe Designs, told Travel+Leisure that passengers will see a difference no matter what boarding procedures an airline uses.

“If they board by account status we still get the advantages of a wider aisle and more maneuvering room during passenger ‘spinning’—that time when they are next to their seat in the aisle taking jackets off, putting bags away, getting iPads out—but it will reduce their overall efficiency. It will still be better but not optimal,” he said.

Scott says that during their modeling of boarding speed, Molon Labe found random boarding, on a first-come-first-seated basis, like Southwest Airlines uses, gives the fastest results.

Molon Labe Seating first debuted the Side-Slip seat concept in 2015, and has been refining the design since.

The company has now cleared major hurdles for approval by the FAA by passing 16G force, 14G force, and HIC (Head Impact Criteria) tests. The tests are required for all aircraft seats, but passing them is a particularly important achievement for the Side-Slip seat because of the unique moving mechanism. The designers had to prove that the seat would only slide when it should. With the tests passed, Scott and his team at Molon Labe can now focus on submitting the design to regulators for final approval, and the tough job of convincing an airline to buy this very different seat.

There have been a few alternative seating solutions for economy class over the years, and they haven’t managed to get off the ground yet.

Even established manufacturers have had trouble persuading airlines to adopt their most radical seat designs. Airlines tend to be conservative about these things and most opt for new versions of the familiar fixed three-seat or two-seat models which have been flying for ages.

Still, based on reaction to the seat at trade shows, Scott is optimistic.

“Every time someone sees the design they get this ‘ah-ha’ moment,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the wider aisle, sometimes it the extra lateral space they feel when they sit in the staggered design. Of course, every time we fly we also get reminded how necessary this design is ourselves.”

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