Image: Marcelo Cáceres

Image: Marcelo Cáceres

APEX Insight: From cushier cushions to added legroom, ideas abound on how to increase comfort in air travel, but not all of them are accurate. We asked the experts: What is the biggest myth about comfort in the cabin that you would like to see debunked?

MYTH #1: SEAT WIDTH IS THE DETERMINING FACTOR

Despite contrary opinion, experts agree that seat width isn’t the primary determining factor for comfort. “If everything else is equal, people of course rate a wider seat higher, until lateral support becomes an issue,” says Blake Emery, director, Differentiation Strategy, The Boeing Company.

“But everything is not equal. We have a lot of research showing passengers rating seating comfort higher than aircraft with wider seats,” he says. In 2011, the airframer conducted surveys on two identical Norwegian Air Shuttle 737 aircraft except one had the Boeing Sky Interior (BSI). The findings revealed that despite having the same amount of space passengers felt they had more room on the BSI-equipped aircraft. “It turns out that seat width is a poor predictor of overall satisfaction and comfort,” says Emery.

MYTH #2: PITCH PERFECT EXISTS

Along the same lines, seat pitch – industry parlance for the amount of space between a seat and the one in front of it – is not the be all and end all of seat comfort, says Airbus’ head of Design and Brand Management, Paul Edwards. “Of course, seat pitch does have an influence [on comfort]; however, it’s not an accurate indicator of comfort, as seat design, manufacturing technology and lighting all play a key role,” he explains. Given the choice between the two, Edwards would prioritize seat width over seat pitch: “Our own research has shown that seat width is more important, particularly in economy classes, where what really matters is the overall passenger personal space – something we pay careful attention to in our Airspace cabins.” With Airspace, Airbus established an 18-inch width standard for eight-abreast seating on the A330neo, though airlines are free to trim, if desired, in favor of higher density layouts.

MYTH #3: THE FOAMIER THE BETTER

“A lot of people think the more foam in the seat, the more comfortable it is,” says Flavia Renata Dantas Alves Silva Ciaccia, Comfort and Ergonomics Research and Development Engineer, Embraer. Good designers know that comfort has less to do with the amount of foam, and more to do with the placement of foam and other material support. Several manufacturers have experimented with different materials. Seymourpowell’s Morph seat concept replaces foam with flexible fabric and Lantal Textiles’ Pneumatic Comfort System fills seat cushions with air.

MYTH #4: TRIM SEATS OFFER A SLIM CHANCE OF COMFORT

In the high-density, high-margined airline business, skinny, lightweight economy seats are the name of the game. Despite their appearance, slim seats can still offer a high level of support, attests Mark Hiller, chief executive officer of Recaro Aircraft Seating. “If, for example, a flexible diaphragm netting under the seat cushion is used, the comfort can be the same or even better than that of a conventional seat,” he explains. Hiller even spent three nights and a day in one of Recaro’s slim CL3710 seats to test that theory out.

MYTH #5: MORE FEATURES EQUAL MORE COMFORT

Tom Eaton, director of Design for LIFT by EnCore, thinks that the perception that an increase in features correlates with an increase in comfort distracts designers from the basics. “As designers, we need the courage and conviction to reduce and refine,” says Eaton, “leaving only what brings true value to the passenger.”

Katie is a contributing editor for APEX Media, based in Paris, France.