Last year, airplane manufacturer Airbus filed an amusing patent for two-story seating in its wide-body aircraft. The patent, presented in a proposal titled “Passenger Arrangement for Vehicles,” shows a mezzanine level of seats reachable by steps. Second-story passengers sit right above those on the floor below.
According to Airbus, “Passenger cabins are therefore fitted with as many rows of passenger seats as possible, which are positioned with as little space between them as possible…the mezzanine seats in a wide-body aircraft would “still provide a high level of comfort for passengers”, while making use of a “substantially un-used upper lobe of the aircraft fuselage”.
An excerpt from the document reads “In modern means of transport, in particular in aircraft, it is very important from an economic point of view to make optimum use of available space in a passenger cabin.” According to another source, “As airlines reach the limit of how many paying customers they can cram into a fuselage, you have to give Airbus credit for coming up with a way to pack in more.”
The arrangement has its pluses and its minuses. On the plus side, overhead compartments will now be, in effect, upper seats. As there will be no place to put any bags, travellers will be limited to whatever can be carried in their pockets. Travelsmith, a popular vendor of travel wear, has responded to this reality by designing travel wear that has pockets large enough to carry laptops, earphones, and two tissues.
Another plus is that seats will fully recline. When seats are in the fully reclined position, there “should be more breathing room.” Passengers who would normally sit up and read on flights will be encouraged to make the choice between personal amusement and ability to breathe.
Flight attendants are sure to benefit from the new arrangement. Now, instead of having to be in the galley at the rear of the plane, where they might be required to respond to passenger requests, they can enjoy their own privacy in a 24-inch-high area above some of the seats. They will simply have to ditch their shoes and remain in a seated or partially prone position. By the time a passenger completes the navigation required to reach a flight attendant, the plane will be in descent and all passengers will be told to return to their seats.
Airbus admits that there are limitations to this design that make it unlikely to see development. Elderly or disabled passengers, pregnant women, and small children would have to be taken into account. Airbus is considering imposing a steep surcharge on such travellers, in order to deter them from travel. The elderly and their young grandchildren would be encouraged to use Skype or Facetime to communicate with each other, eliminating the need for either to travel for that purpose. Doctors would be encouraged to tell pregnant women not to travel at all. Disabled people would be placed in the same category as terrorists and would be moved to the no-fly list. Airbus assures the public that any disabled person attempting to travel would not be detained.
Travelsmith, in response, is working on travel wear that might include pockets large enough for small children to reside in during the flight. The company admits that disabled passengers, the elderly, and pregnant women are unlikely to fit into these pockets and will be SOL.
Another category of people who might find this new mode of travel difficult would be those with asthma, claustrophobia, and/or who suffer from anxiety attacks. Airbus was quick to point out that “Flying is not a right. It’s a luxury that should be reserved for those with a lot of money and who are healthy, limber, and aren’t weenies about stuff like breathing. Everyone else can take Greyhound, which is really disgusting and can’t even cross the ocean. Or they can avoid the whole thing by just staying home.”
Airbus is the drug mule of the airplane design world, cramming items into spaces they should not be. According to Wired, “Airbus has previously patented seats with built-in virtual reality helmets to help passengers escape their cramped confines at 33,000 feet. Other unusual aeroplane seating plans include another Airbus patent for “motorcycle-type saddles,” and Zodiac Aerospace’s concept design of alternate forward and backward facing seats in a honeycomb-like arrangement.”
The ultimate goal of Airbus is to provide maximum passenger seating, with minimal distress. For a moderate surcharge, passengers can be fitted with virtual reality helmets that allow them to believe they are travelling first class, with cushy seats, alcohol, endless snacks, and the ability to get to the rest room. For an even higher surcharge, passengers will be fitted with a virtual reality helmet that makes them believe that their hot seatmate is spending the flight rubbing their thigh.
A word of caution: Those passengers who make it to the actual restroom will encounter at least five passengers inside, who have paid a surcharge for the privilege of being near the commode and travelling in private quarters.