This article originally appeared in The Design Issue of APEX Experience.
So-called recliner rage – conflict between passengers over seat pitch – is a major issue for airlines, and a widely publicized cause of flight diversions. Battles over reclining seats can escalate into risky situations for both passengers and crew, and they’re a huge waste of time and money. A comfortable, functional redesign for recliners would be game-changing for the air industry and the passenger experience, and industrial designers are rising to the challenge.
Award-winning designer James Lee recently conceptualized a new model for economy-class aircraft seating with specially designed backrests that allow passengers to recline without co-opting the space of whomever is behind them. Lee’s seats also feature two-tiered armrests, so passengers can sit comfortably without having to knock elbows and jostle for space, as well as built-in footrests, for added comfort. While his designs haven’t made it onto commercial flights yet, some airlines are taking note and making changes of their own.
Last year, Monarch Airlines scrapped recliners across its whole fleet after a Skyscanner survey revealed 91 percent of customers were in favor of replacing them with non-reclining seats.
Last year, Monarch Airlines scrapped recliners across its whole fleet after a Skyscanner survey revealed 91 percent of customers were in favor of replacing them with non-reclining seats. Besides having more efficient storage options and built-in tablet holders, Monarch’s new fixed seating has greatly improved the seat pitch in its cabins, allowing passengers to work comfortably, enjoy meals on acceptably angled tables and watch in-flight entertainment without developing neck aches. Best of all, the airline’s new seating affords passengers more living space without the need to recline. The comparatively lighter seats have had a positive impact outside the cabin, too: Their reduced weight means Monarch saves up to 562 pounds of fuel per five hours of flight.
Monarch wasn’t the first airline to ditch reclined seating: Ryanair and easyJet transitioned to fixed economy-class seating several years ago to cut costs. And given the number of stories about recliner rage that surfaced over the past year, as well as the gains Monarch has made by retiring recliners, it seems likely that other airlines will follow suit, and the economy-class recliner – in its current state, at least – will be finally put to bed.