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The Stagger Seat would provide passengers in the middle with more hip and shoulder room.

APEX Insight: Most passengers prefer aisle or window seats, but new ideas from Molon Labe may bring the middle seat into favor. The company is close to announcing the launch customer for its short-haul Side-Slip Seat and a prototype of the long-haul Stagger Seat is expected to be unveiled at Aircraft Interiors Expo in April.

No one likes getting stuck in the middle seat. It’s so unpopular that design consultancy Teague even proposed a “promotional class” concept where airlines would partner with brands to offer gifts to the passenger caught in the middle. But Denver-based startup Molon Labe Designs has engineered a solution that rethinks the middle seat altogether: Stagger Seat is a long-haul economy-class seat intended to offer increased comfort without changing cabin capacity. A prototype is expected to be unveiled in April at Aircraft Interiors Expo.

The design features a middle seat that’s mounted several inches behind and below the outer seats, increasing passengers’ hip and shoulder room. It’s also three inches wider than the adjacent aisle or window seat, which could make it more desirable to passengers. Larger middle seats have been tried before, but Molon Labe CEO Hank Scott says due to the staggered layout, “you don’t steal width” from the adjacent seats.

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The middle seat’s extra girth allows it to hold a 17.3-inch in-flight entertainment (IFE) display produced by Panasonic Avionics in conjunction with BMW’s Designworks division, and is comparable to those in business-class seats. A patented armrest design separates passengers’ elbows and prevents the subtle armrest wars frequently waged in the middle seat. Other features such as a simplified tray-table locking mechanism, vertical impact resistance to withstand falling luggage, and washable, rather than disposable seat cushions, are designed to reduce maintenance costs.

The staggered layout would work best on aircraft configured with an odd number of seats in a row, posing a challenge to fit the design to many wide-body aircraft configurations, but the company is working on a solution.

Molon Labe takes its name from an ancient Greek expression, which loosely translates to “bring it on.” Scott and Kevin VanLiere founded the company in 2011, and it’s now colocated with established supplier and production partner Primus Aerospace. The company has also partnered with Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research to digitally model its crash-test certification process. Scott, a former test pilot instructor for the Royal Australian Navy and an engineering professor at the University of Colorado, cofounded the company after growing frustrated with the boarding process and the amount of time it took to get into his seat.

The Stagger Seat uses the same sub-frame as Molon Labe’s short-haul Side-Slip Seat, which is also staggered, but features a telescoping chassis to allow the aisle seat to slide over the middle seat during boarding and deplaning. The goal is to reduce turnaround times by creating more aisle space for passengers accessing overhead bins. The Side-Slip Seat, which is designed for low-cost, high-frequency applications, doesn’t currently have a reclining mechanism or an integrated IFE system, although those options may be available in the future.

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The Side-Slip Seat, introduced at AIX in 2013.

The Side-Slip seating system has already passed initial crash tests, and is expected to be fully certified and in service by the end of 2017, with the Stagger Seat planned to follow in 2018. The company is in talks with numerous carriers and leasing companies, and is close to announcing the launch customer for the Side-Slip Seat, although Scott admits, “The amount of interest being shown on the long-haul seat has kind of thrown us.”

Molon Labe hopes to achieve 10 percent market share among low-cost carriers and economy-class seats within the next three to five years. As Scott puts it, “I think that customer loyalty will be a big part of our market penetration.”

“Staggered Seating” was originally published in the 7.2 April/May issue of APEX Experience magazine.