Adaptable airliner seat accepts passengers' wheelchairs as needed
For wheelchair users, air travel can be a cumbersome and frustrating experience. That's where a new type of airliner seat is designed to come in, as it allows passengers to stay in their own wheelchair throughout the flight.
Ordinarily, wheelchair users have to check their existing wheelchair as baggage, hoping it doesn't get lost or damaged along the way.
They then use a smaller airport wheelchair to get onto the plane and over to their assigned seat. Depending on the mobility of the individual, they may subsequently have to be lifted out of that wheelchair and placed in the seat, with the whole process being repeated in reverse when the plane reaches its destination.
Obviously, things would be a lot easier if such passengers could just stay in their own wheelchair from start to finish. British accessibility consortium Air4All has designed a new type of airliner seat with that consideration in mind, and it's now being developed for real-world use in partnership with Atlanta-based Delta Flight Products (a subsidiary of Delta Airlines).
When not required by a wheelchair user, the seat looks and functions like any other. This is an important consideration, as it means the airline won't lose revenue by having to leave it unoccupied whenever its special features aren't needed. Additionally, the plane's existing seating system doesn't have to be mechanically altered in any way to accommodate it.
When the special seat is required by a wheelchair user, its backrest is quickly removed, its seat cushion is folded back/up to sit in the area previously occupied by the backrest, then the wheelchair is simply backed into the now-open space. Finally, rubber-coated hooks which are recessed into the floor are pulled up and fastened to the wheelchair's wheels to keep it secured during the flight.
A functional prototype of the seat was unveiled and demonstrated earlier this month at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany. It is now in the final design process, to be followed by testing and certification.