Airline seats can either be a traveler’s nightmare or dream, depending on the airline they fly with and if it’s in business/ first or in economy. So who’s to blame for your comfort or pain? It’s not the airline, but the manufacturers like B/E Aerospace and Zodiac, as well as the volunteers who test the seats.
But as many of you may or may not know, these seats that many of us dread sitting in (for hours at a time) are a bit more complicated than we make think. For instance, it takes years for a new concept to be made available for purchase. Or, that seat measurements are determined by samples given by ordinary people, measuring eight different parts of their bodies. Let me explain further…
Manufacturing Takes a Long Time
That seat that you sit on in the plane wasn’t made this year or last, in fact, it takes about five years (sometimes even more) for airlines to purchase a new seat. So why does it take so long? Airlines want to test out what they will end up spending a lot of money on—in this case, seats. This means months of “fanny testing”, a term used when airlines gather hundreds of volunteers via ads online (some even by word-of-mouth) and have them secretly test out the seats in either a hotel suite or a warehouse. Who knows, maybe even you could be a future airplane seat tester!
Seat Measurements Are Given by Volunteers
Have you ever wondered how airlines get specific seat measurements? You can thank the volunteers who have to provide airlines (using calipers) their measurements for eight different parts of their body, including “seated hip width” and “buttock-knee length”. Once the seat dimensions have been gathered, the volunteers then have to sit on sample seats for hours as they assess the model. So what do they test? The comfort level of the seat foam, width, knee space, backrest, the height of the seat, recline, entertainment screen, and overall satisfaction.
Seats Used to Be Even Less Comfortable
In the early days of flying, passengers did not have better seats than what we see today. In fact, the first planes at the beginning of the 20th century had seats that were made from wicker (ouch!), followed by seats covered in alligator skin (at least they reclined, right?). It wasn’t until the mid-century did airlines such as Pan Am roll out sleepers throughout the airplane, which, unfortunately, only lasted a few decades. It wasn’t until the late 1990s did we start to see seats that converted into a bed—although only in business class. And Economy? Those aluminum-based seats were first introduced in the 1950s and since then they haven’t changed much at all.
Your Seat Is Not So Cheap
Most airline seats cost an average of $2,000 to $3,000 USD—I’m talking just for Coach, and for the most basic model. For a single first or business class seat, the airline can pay anywhere between $30,000 to $80,000 for the more standard model. But if you’re looking at the more private suites and luxury cabins aboard Emirates and Qatar, for instance, airlines can pay well over $100,000 for each one.
Seats Are Very Sturdy
All seats go through tremendous crash testing before they are ever placed on the market. According to the FAA, a seat must be able to withstand 16 times the gravitational pull, which is almost twice as much as the previous requirement of 9 G’s. So don’t worry, your seat won’t go anywhere ;).