Air travel on a budget isn't often pleasant. Despite huge leaps forward in comfort for the upper classes (and the more recent "premium economy" class), the economy section of a cabin is more often than not cramped, packed, and charmless. British design firm Seymourpowell has a seating concept that it believes will change that. It's called Morph.
"Passengers who can afford premium, business or first class have a choice and hence some control over their own experience," says Seymourpowell's head of transport Jeremy White. "Morph is a solution – a standard product that meets the needs of lots of different kinds of people."
The pitch is simple: Morph can, quite literally, morph to best serve those who are using it.
Rather than a trio of individual seats, each made of several pieces of fabric and foam, Morph is better described as a bench. A single piece of fabric is stretched across to form the seats, and another forms the back of the chair. The individual seats are designated using armrests and dividers to clamp the fabric in place.
Instead of moving the entire seat back to adjust the pitch of the chair, mechanized seat formers are positioned under the fabric, allowing users to decide the recline and support that best fits them.
Because the back of the seat is fixed in place, the seat in front of you will never be reclined. "The semantics of the architecture and visual cues indicate that the back of the seat belongs to the passenger facing it," explains the firm. There are also fold-out sections that extend the width of armrests, which Seymourpowell says increases a passenger's sense of independence and control over their own space.
The concept of static seats and the suggestion that they will provide a more pleasant flight experience is interesting, but it's not mind-blowing. Where Morph comes into its own is in the flexibility of its design.
By moving the dividers that define each seat, airline staff can effectively tailor each bench for its occupants. All three seats take up 54 inches of width — a fairly standard economy bench size. When shared between a trio of passengers, that offers 18 inches each. However, there are times when we don't require three equal seats.
Seymourpowell offers up the example of a couple traveling with a child. The father, presumably larger than the rest of the family, could take 20 inches, the mother keeps the standard 18 inches, and the child takes 16 inches. This simple adjustment gives the father more lateral space than almost any major airline would offer in economy, at no extra expense to the family.
With some economy airlines charging significantly more to sit in an exit row or close to the front of the plane, it's easy to envisage the second scenario Seymourpowell offers up becoming a reality. Morph's design allows for the central seat to be made as small as 10 inches wide. This creates two 22-inch seats, offering airlines and passengers a "premium" row for those would like to pay more for the space. This configuration could also potentially save money for overweight people, some of whom buy two adjacent seats when traveling.
In all of the configurations, the seat formers and adjusting mechanisms move with the dividers (they're also on rails) to form a new seat.
Although Seymourpowell has partnered with many companies to bring products to market, Morph is just an initial concept. There are countless safety regulations, tests, and potential modifications to be made before an airline can consider using the seating in one of their planes.
What it does do is start a conversation. When flying, all our needs are different. Some may not mind taking a small seat to save money, while others may wish to take a larger seat to work through a long flight. Airlines currently can't offer such flexibility to their passengers. Morph could provide the opportunity for operators to maximize their profits, and, more importantly to most, give passengers greater control over their journey.
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