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Knee-to-Knee in the Air

Cindy Loose

Latest idea for packing people into airlines more efficiently: Save the room used by armrests by alternating the direction seats are pointed, with every other seat looking forward, and the others facing the back of the plane.

This would allow airlines to get in some extra seats, at least on some planes. For example, a Boeing 777 would have 10 seats in a middle row, instead of the current nine plus armrests.

According to the Times of London, British Airways is one of 10 airlines considering the new configuration. The other nine are not identified.

Maybe it's worth facing a stranger and perhaps facing the back of the plane to get a tad more leg room? You couldn't rest your head on your travel companion's shoulder, but you could put your hand on his or her knee. See any upsides and downsides, or alternative ideas for airplanes to get more seats on each plane?
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By Cindy Loose |  April 12, 2007; 10:53 AM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Cindy Loose
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Oh no. Please no. I have real problems riding backwards. It's a motion sickness thing. I can't imagine dealing with takeoff, facing backwards. This is completely horrifying to me.

Posted by: Jen | April 12, 2007 11:27 AM

Same here. If they ever put me in a rear-facing seat, they'll have to keep a steady supply of air sickness bags coming.

Unfortunately, I can see a real moneymaking opportunity here. Just as they've made coach more crowded and then offered roomier seats at extra cost, they could make the backward seats the coach standard, then charge extra for the privilege of sitting forward.

This is an even worse idea than the (very) short-lived suggestion that they prop passengers up in a standing position to fit in more seats.

Posted by: jane | April 12, 2007 11:57 AM

I was once on a flight from Heathrow to Newark on British Airways and (I suppose) because my connecting flight into London was rather late, I was one of the last people to board the plane and got upgraded from World Traveller to Club World. This sort of seat configuration is used in Club World, and I had a rear facing seat. I, too, thought I would be dizzy, but it turned out fine. (I sometimes get dizzy riding backwards on Metro). Can't really explain why, but maybe the plane is so large, and you can't see outside, that it's harder to notice how fast you're going.

Posted by: Drew | April 12, 2007 1:12 PM

I have no motion sickness issues, but I have real issues with having to share the space in front of me with complete strangers, as opposed to a complete stranger's seatback. I've ridden in facing seats on New York City's commuter trains, and even though I'm short (5'4"), there's never enough legroom and you wind up feeling awkward and cramped for the entire trip. On a commuter train that's bearable, but on an 8-hour transoceanic haul? I don't think so.

And who wants to be the stew who has to manage the 8 people in the 4-seat facing grouping on Ms. Loose's reconfigured -777 if 5 of them are a family with three little kids and the other three are solo business travelers? Unless the stew is a licensced pharmacist who's dispensing pills, perhaps...

Posted by: BxNY | April 12, 2007 1:56 PM

Does it have to be configured such that people have to be facing each other? Why can't each "column" of seats be facing the same direction? Facing someone would definitely be unpleasant, but on the flight I was on, each letter seat was facing the same direction.

Posted by: Drew | April 12, 2007 2:15 PM

Bad, bad, bad idea! The who-get-the-armrest issue is a problem already. Now I have to fight for legroom withthe 6'6" guy across from me??? No thank you!

Posted by: Karen | April 12, 2007 2:57 PM

Wait...how does this save space? I don't understand. Is there a diagram anywhere? Similarly, taking off facing backward just sounds really, really unpleasant. Takeoff pushes you pretty strongly back into your seat - can you imagine being pushed forward like that? You'd be bent over your seatbelt at the waist. And if all this requires facing a stranger, um, no thank you. They'd have to be charging, like, $5 transatlantic fares for those backward-facing seats to be wortwhile.

Posted by: h3 | April 12, 2007 3:08 PM

"Bad, bad, bad idea! The who-get-the-armrest issue is a problem already. Now I have to fight for legroom withthe 6'6" guy across from me??? No thank you!"

You won't have to fight me. (are you really going to fight a guy my seize?) You will give me all your leg room. Pull your knees up to your chest if you have to. But that leg room is mine! What? You want to make an issue of it pipsqueak?

Posted by: 6'6" guy across from you | April 12, 2007 3:20 PM

I could be mistaken, but after reading the article several times I don't think they're talking about having seats face each other like on trains, where you fight over legroom. I am thinking the configuration would be like this:

On a plane with three seats on each side of the aisle (lettered 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D, 3E, 3F), the window and aisle seats on each side would face forward, the middle seat would face backward. That way your legroom is unchanged and you would still be looking at the back of the seat in front of you.

I could be totally off base here, but this is the only way this made sense. I still hate the idea; while I don't mind riding backwards, I enjoy having an armrest and I like sitting side-by-side with my husband when we travel.

Posted by: Manassas, VA | April 12, 2007 3:23 PM

Other posters may be correct that the facing seats would be, eg, 3A forward, 3B back, 3C forward, etc. But still! This just doesn't sound like a good idea, unless perhaps these seats are some sort of even-number-of-seats pods a la BA's Club World (see Seatguru for that layout). But my cynical mind is picturing something that would owe more in terms of design to the New York City subway than to premium seating on a top-tier airline.

Posted by: BxNY | April 12, 2007 4:37 PM

Cindy: This is a joke, right? Aside from everything else, how wil people, especially in the middle of the 10 section, ever get into/out of their seats to use the lavatory if everyone else is already seated? I also see this as an invitation for groping and assaults as the arm of one passenger could "accidentally" fall into the lap of the person next to him facing the opposite way.

Posted by: Bethesda Mom | April 13, 2007 12:30 PM

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