Image via tangerine

APEX Insight: More comfort in economy is ahead as the headrest cushion gets a facelift.

Airlines, designers and manufacturers have made significant headway in addressing one of the complaints of long-haul economy flights: It’s hard to sleep.

Cathay Pacific’s A350 economy seat includes many passenger-friendly features, but it has drawn the attention of the world’s media for its proprietary six-way headrest. The headrest can be adjusted to wrap around the passenger’s head and offers twin lean-to cushions.     

Martin Darbyshire, CEO of London-based design firm tangerine, which worked for Cathay Pacific on this project, says the airline’s brief was to improve what the airline’s passengers already like and add new features that passengers would love. “Existing features, like the storage tray in the back of the seat, turned out to be very popular,” Darbyshire says.

“We were tasked with building on those features and finding new ones that could be delivered within the timeframe and that everyone felt offered a strong benefit to passengers.” The design process for the headrest began with a series of mock-ups. “We had to scope out how big it could become. You have a second ear cushion, to provide more lateral support, but you have to avoid it entering the aisleway,” Darbyshire explains.

Etihad Airways also addressed this aisle issue on its “Reimagined” cabins, where its Economy Smart Seats offer a fixed-wing headrest that lets passengers rest their head to the side.

“I am convinced that a lot of travelers will enjoy the fruits of this product in future.” — Udo Schultheis, Zodiac Seats

Other seat design concepts have looked ahead to give economy-class passengers a better chance to sleep. The Thompson Aero Seating economy Cozy Suite has an integrated lean-to headrest and is staggered to give each passenger personal space.

TU Delft student Manon Kühne won a Crystal Cabin Award this year for a folding hammock headrest that keeps passengers from sliding onto a neighbor’s shoulder. The project was supported by Zodiac Aerospace. “I am convinced that a lot of travelers will enjoy the fruits of this product in future,” says Udo Schultheis, director, Human Factors and Ergonomics, Zodiac Seats US.

“Heads in the Clouds” was originally published in the 6.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine. 

Marisa Garcia was once locked in a hangar in Oberpfaffenhofen while fine-tuning Gandalf’s new seats. Seriously. The firemen got her out. Writing is less confining, but she has lovely memories of those hands-on days.