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In-Flight Experience

Is the World Ready for These Stand-up Airline ‘Seats’?

Eight years ago, seat maker Avio showed off an airline “seat” that supported passengers but didn’t really seat them. Instead, passengers would lean against a padded backrest and tiled semi-seat attached to a vertical pole, but they’d still support some weight on their feet. Dubbed the Skyrider, the seat would allow passenger rows with a front-to-rear spacing, or pitch, as low as 23 inches, compared with the minimum of 29 inches for today’s worst economy cabins and 30-31 inches for most giant lines.

The benefit to airlines? More passengers in each plane. The advantage to passengers? Lower fares. The original announcement was greeted with much derision and amusement, from both consumer and industry sources, with lots of jokes—but no long-term interest.

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Now, in 2018, Avio is back with Skyrider 2.0, again showing off at the Airliners Interiors Expo in Hamburg what it claims is an “improved” product. And the business is again buzzing with both “why” and “why not” questions.

Why Standing Airline Seats Might Work

Low fares are now irresistible. Air travelers have already demonstrated their willingness to accept a really terrible seating product if fares are low enough, and Skyrider doesn’t look a lot worse than what you get today on bottom-feeding airlines. At least it’s better than the unsupported standing room that many big-city rail commuters face every day? At low enough fares, Skyrider might well attract a sizable market for short-haul flights of maybe an hour or hour and a half or so.

Why Standing Airline Seats Might Not Work

Safety issues are a challenge. The number of passengers a commercial plane can hold is limited by the ratio of passengers to exit doors, and today’s jets are already at or close to those limits. In addition, it’s hard to see how the design could pass the 16G impact requirement of today’s seating. Also, Skyrider would probably be limited to relatively short flights, and airlines could install it in only a small dedicated fleet of very-short-haul planes that couldn’t be used elsewhere—a big problem for most airlines.

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What Happens Next

Industry mavens can and will debate the pros and cons of Skyrider for years, but a true test would be definitive. Could Avio get a low-fare airline to install Skyrider in one test plane and see how the real-world market reacts? Interesting, but unlikely.

I’d put the chances of actual Skyrider installations at less than 50 percent. If any, the first installations will likely be in Asia or Europe. Still, as often noted in the airline business, nothing catches on as fast as a bad idea.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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