Airbus’s Brave New World of Passenger Discomfort


So very often in the course of being the English-speaking (or at least –reading) world’s most beloved air travel blogger, I am asked if I am more of a Boeing or Airbus fan. Occasionally, someone who pronounces about to rhyme with loot will include Bombardier Aerospace in the inquiry. At such moments, I am reminded of my carefree youth, when I was commonly asked if I preferred the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, as of course every right-thinking person did.

Ordinarily, I shrug apologetically in response to the Boeing/Airbus question, but boy, am I ever not shrugging today. Today, because of the news that Airbus is trying to patent what it calls Seating Device Comprising a Forward Foldable Backrest, I am every inch a Boeing boy.

“To increase the number of cabin seats,” Airbus’s patent application tartly observes, “the space allotted to each passenger must be reduced.” Oh, Airby. You say the most romantic things.

One observer has observed that Airbus’s designers seem to have been inspired by the bleacher seating at a high school football field, albeit rather higher-tech. “Reduced comfort,” Airbus’s patent application notes elsewhere, “remains tolerable for passengers only on flights lasting one or a few hours.” One or a few. Or, when corporate profits begin to decrease, one imagines, one, few, or a great many hours.

Airbus’s application duly notes that putting economy passengers on little seats shaped like bicycle saddles wasn’t the only way to cram more of them aboard every flight, and laments that it is difficult to further reduce this distance between the seats because of the increase in the average passenger size. It is unclear whether passengers in the brave new world of passenger agony would be required to hold their arms at 90 degrees, as in the drawing. It’s probably not a good policy to assume otherwise.

Tray tables will of course become a thing of the past; one will need to hold his delicious meal, for which he’s paid extra, on his lap. Should the plane have to land on water, good luck using the little saddles as flotation devices! As for the little video screens of which many of us have foolishly allowed ourselves to become fond, they will go the way of the tray table, though this column can envision someone in Airbus’s design department proposing a system whereby passengers bribe those directly in front of them to somehow affix little monitors to the backs of their heads. Velcro!

This column has been unable to confirm that the government of Kim Jong-un has contacted Airbus in hope of getting it to design devices for the rehabilitation of dissidents and other enemies of The People’s Revolution, or whatever the North Koreans call it.

In other news, Airbus is also trying to patent a “windowless cockpit” design that would eliminate the space-wasting, profit-lessening traditional cockpit at the front of the plane, and replace it with a sort of command center in which the pilot would monitor an array of video screens, in this case not attached to the back of anyone’s head, displaying 3D renderings, holograms, and feeds from multiple on-board cameras.

You can see where this is going, can you not? First the airlines eliminate the traditional cockpit. They next eliminate the traditional pilot, and replace her with someone flying the plane via remote control from a big control room somewhere in Flyoverland, where the gals is purty and the rents low.

Truth be told, as long as they give me a real seat in which to sit, they can do what they like cockpit-wise, as I’ve never believed that my safety depended on those flying the plane  being able to see out of their comically dinky windows.

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