Sunday, April 15, 2007

Little Comfort For Folks In Coach

Fitting larger people to smaller seats ...

"You and that pretzel you're eating 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.

... But airlines are trying to cope with a range of passenger sizes. As a result, seat design is a compromise, and comfort is now 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 inches," 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 might 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, legroom - 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," says Brauer, "in which a well-intentioned enhancement can make [the tallest] passengers quite uncomfortable."

As Americans get taller and fatter, they're bound to "spill into other people's spaces," says Peter Budnick, president and chief executive of Ergoweb Inc., an ergonomics consulting and training company in Park City, Utah, that has examined airline seating from the standpoint of both 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 by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was based on a study charting changes between 1960 and 2002."    (Continued via courant.com)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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