Ergonomics done right.®
June 4th, 2012

Ergonomics of Airplanes: What Makes us Comfortable? (Part 2)

by Mike Hoonhorst, AEP

I recently read an article on, Airline squeeze: It’s not you, ‘it’s the seat’.  The authors commented on the battle between comfortable airline seating and the bottom line.  There is no question that airlines are finding new ways to increase revenue and one way is to squeeze even more seats into an already cramped space.  This usually comes at a cost…our comfort.  Kathleen Robinette, who studies anthropometry for the U.S. Air Force, suggests that Americans are getting bigger.  She points out that the average backside has increased from 14.4 inches to 15 inches over the past 40 years.

Who, or should I say what, should we be designing for?  Interestingly, the backside is the only dimension where women are larger than men.  Yet the airline industry claims they design the seats for ‘larger’ men.  The current standard seat width ranges from 17 to 19 inches in most economy classes.  This will accommodate most hips, but what about the rest of our body?  Robinette comments that our shoulders and arms are the widest parts of our body.  So even if our backsides fit into the seat, we find ourselves battling for the armrest or getting hit by the food and beverage cart as it rolls by.  Unfortunately, even though we are getting bigger, airline seats will not.  Airlines are more likely to be driven by cost, than by comfort.  Do you have any tips for maximizing flying comfort?

Read Ergonomics of Airplanes (Part 1)