Sunday, April 01, 2007

Don't look for more comfy airplane seats on the horizon

I guess they will have to change the anthropmetry tables ...

"You and that pretzel you're snacking on in the airlines' cheap seats have something in common: You're twisted into a shape that's simply not natural.

Who will stop the pain?

The bad news: Probably not the airlines - at least, not anytime soon.

Consider this: Aircraft designers are dealing with space limitations. A Boeing single-class 767-400ER, for example, can carry a maximum of 375 passengers and handle a maximum takeoff weight of 450,000 pounds. Boeing guidelines, which comply with those of the Federal Aviation Administration, allow for 185 pounds per passenger, 20 of that for carry-on baggage.

But airlines are trying to cope with a range of passenger sizes. As a result, seat design is a compromise, and comfort is defined as the absence of pain and injury.

"We're trying to protect a woman a bit under 4 feet 11 and a man 6 feet 3," says Klaus Brauer, Boeing's director of passenger satisfaction and revenue.

"In the course of a week, airlines face every conceivable body type on the planet," says Brauer, who's 6 feet 1 and 200-plus pounds.

If your economy seat also seems thinner and harder, that may be because it is. Airlines have been installing less-padded, lighter seats while complying with an FAA regulation requiring that all aircraft built after October 2009 have seats designed to withstand 16 times the force of gravity (rather than the current nine).

For most passengers, leg room - lack of it - is a big issue, but it isn't the only one. Headrests can be fixed in "ouch" positions.

And take those "ears" - the projections at each side of the headrest designed to prevent head tilt when a passenger is asleep. They are positioned to be at, or below, the shoulders of tall passengers. "One of those cases," Brauer says, "in which a well-intentioned enhancement can make [the tallest] passengers quite uncomfortable."

And as Americans get taller and fatter, they're bound to "spill into other people's spaces," says Peter Budnick, president and chief executive of Park City, Utah-based Ergoweb Inc., an ergonomics consulting and training company that has examined airline seating from the standpoint of ergonomics and anthropometry - the study of the human body in relation to things people use.

Since the 1960s - the dawn of the jet age - the average American has become an inch taller and 25 pounds heavier, according to a 2004 report (the most recent available) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was based on a study charting changes between 1960 and 2002.

The CDC found that in 2002 the average man 20 to 74 years of age was 5 feet 9 1/2 inches and weighed 191 pounds, while the average woman in the same age range was 5 feet 4 and weighed 164 pounds."    (Continued via baltimoresun.com)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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