Passenger Rights

Can Sensory Deprivation Upgrade Coach Flying?

Airbus’s antidote to the discomfort of flying in coach: Induce an out-of-body experience for the duration of the flight.

Whose side is Airbus on? The aircraft manufacturer has come down on both sides of the passenger-comfort debate, dissing the industry-standard coach seats as “crusher seats,” and then filing a patent application for what may be the most congested coach-class seating configuration ever conceived.

Are they trying to rescue coach customers, or kill them with claustrophobia? The company’s latest patent application, US 8814266 B2, leaves us with more questions than answers.

Innocuously, the application references a “Headrest for a passenger seat for an aircraft.” If that conjures images of a traditional headrest, dismiss them. Instead, imagine a space helmet that almost completely covers the flyer’s head, with a clear visor in front of the eyes for visibility. Think Rocket Man.

Here’s Airbus’s statement of the problem their space helmet is designed to solve:

During aircraft flights, certain passengers have periods when they are bored either during a wait phase preceding take-off or following landing or during a cruise phase. Moreover, it is known that aircraft flights generate stress for certain passengers.

Translation: Flying in coach is an awful experience.

The solution, as envisioned in the patent application, is to envelop passengers’ heads in virtual-reality helmets, that distract attention from the too-tight seating with piped-in sounds, images, even smells. Or by blotting out consciousness altogether with a cocktail of white noise and deep-space darkness.

Geekiness aside, the designer is on to something. The only effective antidote to the discomfort of flying in coach indeed may be inducing an out-of-body experience for the duration of the flight.

What’s next: suspended animation?

Reader Reality Check

How can the coach-class flying experience be improved?

This article originally appeared on

By Tim Winship

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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