Economy airline seats have a one-size-fits-all design that seems to fit hardly anybody and often makes flights of any length into an extended exercise in discomfort. Last week, London-based design firm Seymourpowell presented Morph – a new concept economy seat for airline travel that uses stretched fabric sheets and movable supports to allow passengers to customize their seats and even purchase extra width.

Over the decades, economy class seats have kept getting smaller as airlines try to cram as many passengers as possible into "cattle class". These seats were supposedly designed around the “average” passenger, but, like many statistical constructs, this average person doesn't actually exist in any large numbers. So, according to SeymourPowell, instead of getting a seat that fits most people, it becomes one that fits almost no one.

The basic idea behind the Morph concept is a standard-design, ergonomic, economy class seat that allows for adjustment of the seat width, pan height, and pan depth without reducing seating capacity.

Seymourpowell head of transport, Jeremy White says, “Passengers who can afford premium, business or first class have a choice and hence some control over their own experience. For those who travel economy, there is a very limited choice of alternatives. Morph is a solution – a standard product that meets the needs of lots of different kinds of people.”

Instead of foam cushions, the seats consist of sheets of fabric the length of three seats, with one sheet of fabric making up the seat and another the back. These are stretched over a frame and formers press them into shape.

One obvious difference between Morph and conventional seats is that the back doesn't tilt. Instead, the formers slide backwards into the frame and the sheet reclines, so passengers behind don’t see a seat back suddenly tilting at them. Shifting the formers also allows the passenger to raise or lower the seat pan for comfort. Seymourpowell says that the design is not only more comfortable than conventional seats, but is safer and presents fewer health risks.

“A passenger’s size is only one factor;” White says. “Morph takes into account how people feel along with their emotional needs. The young female traveling alone, a mother nursing a child, an elderly or less abled passenger, or a family traveling together, all have specific needs; some desire more privacy or security, some are more vulnerable and require greater assistance, whilst others only need entertainment. These needs change too, depending on the time of day, the length of the flight and the reason behind the journey. On the way out, the passenger may need to work, whilst on the way home they may want to relax or sleep. Yet we are all shoehorned into the exact same format, one that has remained unchanged for years.”

But the concept's biggest selling feature is that the formers can slide sideways and clamp down to widen or narrow the seats. This offers passengers the chance to not only customize their seating arrangements, but also buy the amount of space they desire. People who want more space can pay for more, people who want to save money can buy less, and families can arrange a row to accommodate parents and children down to toddler size.

The idea is that passengers can buy only the space they need, sell or trade width with larger passengers, people who work while traveling, or those who desire more privacy. In addition, the three-seat economy row can be quickly changed to a two-seat premium row.

The video below shows the features of the Morph concept seat.

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