It happens every year or two. Some horrifying diagram will come out that displays what appears to be a sadistic despot’s plan to destroy the will of his subservient subjects in some sort of medieval torture device, with the intention of strapping them in for 18 hours at a time with no possibility of relief, and the internet masses collectively freak out and start threatening to wield their metaphorical pitchforks and shouting as loudly as they possibly can (because in reality, that’s all they can do), telling the airlines they’d better not, or else.
Just take a look at this, and imagine the endurance challenge it would be for even a few hours, then extrapolate to intercontinental duration:
Yes, that seems horrifying. It’s like a weird amusement park ride, with that piece of hardware that goes over your chest, but with no part of it seeming to be amusing.
And take a look at this even-more-horrifying stool strategy, which would have you perched on a bicycle seat, the next obvious step of which is that you’d have to pedal to power your own overhead reading light, due to continuing budget cuts.
“But wait,” you might be thinking. “This makes absolutely no sense. If you’re strapped into this stool system, wouldn’t you bash each other in the head every time the plane jostles around, even just a little?”
Yes, you totally would. “So why would they ever do that?” They wouldn’t.
Take a look at those two diagrams shown above. Is there even any space savings in the design? Because it looks to me like they didn’t even reduce the space around each passenger; they just swapped out the seat for a stupider one. But without reducing legroom.
This makes no sense at all.
Take a look at this one, which is even weirder:
The design allegedly allows more people to fit into the same space, because some people are backward. But take a look at those red people, and just…imagine them sitting the opposite way. Is there any space whatsoever that’s impacted by rotating them back and forth? Any at all?
I remain highly suspicious.
But you know what happens whenever anyone sees this pictures? They say oh no and this is horrible and life is no longer worth living and so on and so forth. And then they board a regular plane, and whenever anyone complains about how they’re packed in with no room to breathe, they’ll say “Oh, but did you hear about what they wanted to do?! Thank goodness we don’t have to deal with that!”
And therein lies the genius of these seat designs. No, they’re not to save space. Not even a tiny little bit. You can see from every diagram that they would accomplish nothing at all. But they save on complaints. Because for every passenger that contemplates just how much worse things could be, they’ll be thankful and cooperative when having to deal with the regular problems that drive everyone insane.
These seat designs aren’t seat designs at all. They’re passenger-compliance strategies. They are a viral marketing tactic, a display of social engineering brilliance; propaganda at its finest. The genius is not in their seat design space advantage, but in their ability to make passengers complacent and content, redirecting their anger toward an imaginary dystopia, like an Orwellian dictatorship constantly proclaiming on the airwaves “let us give thanks for our good fortune, for life is even worse, everywhere else.”
Hang onto that pitchfork. You might just need it.