Flying economy is an unforgiving experience. Unless you want to shell out for extra legroom, the only shot you've got at controlling your own comfort in a conventional airplane seat lies in those few inches of available recline. Bodies of all sizes are squeezed into the same tiny (and shrinking) foam chair. Morph, a new concept for airline seats from U.K.-based design company Seymourpowell, allows plane seating to be a little more flexible, with a movable seat structure to contour to differently sized bodies.
Rather than foam-covered chairs, Morph seats are essentially ergonomic hammocks—pieces of fabric stretched over an adjustable underlying structure of polymer/metal "formers" that make up the skeleton of the seat. By moving these dividers, you can alter the width and depth of a seat, as well as the recline, adjusting the seat to your body. You sink farther into the hammock to recline more. At the same time, the solid back of the seat stays fixed in a semi-reclined position that allows you to lean back but not so much that you disturb your neighbors—so no more enduring entire plane rides with someone leaned all the way back in your lap.
"For those who travel economy, there is a very limited choice of alternatives," says Seymourpowell's head of transport, Jeremy White. "Morph is a solution—a standard product that meets the needs of lots of different kinds of people."
This concept is still in its early stages, and Seymourpowell hasn't worked through all of the safety aspects required of airplane seating. It's likely that the concept has plenty of regulatory hurdles to deal with before it could be used on commercial flights. Airplane seats are designed to absorb part of a crash impact, so removing all the foam might not be all that attractive of a proposition. "It would of course present many challenges, significant investment, and time to become a certified 'flyable' seat," White tells Co.Design in an email.
And if Morph does make its way onto commercial planes, the airline industry will probably use this as a new way to price gauge. Seymourpowell suggests that passengers could buy a little more room for extra cash. But children (or stingy adults willing to endure some cramping) could purchase even smaller seats for a slight discount, or "sell or trade their inches to larger passengers who want more space, the business traveller prepared to pay a bit more so he can work, or the mother nursing her child who wants more privacy," according to the company.
Airlines could easily tweak the layout or capacity of their planes based on their passengers' needs and willingness to pay, changing three-seat rows into two-seaters. Or sit back and watch a bidding war erupt as cash-strapped travelers start selling off inches in exchange for that $10 in-flight snack pack, maybe.