Alas, my friends, that instinct leads to diarrhea.
Zodiac Seats France, an industry supplier, has patented a new seating configuration that rips out the (horrid) middle seat in favor of one that faces the rear. With “Economy Class Cabin Hexagon,” you get more neighbors than ever before—and they are right in your face.
The goal of the design is “to increase cabin density while also creating seat units that increase the space available at the shoulder and arm area.” To be fair, it seems to do that—because you’re no longer facing the same direction as your immediate neighbor, you have more shoulder room. And if you’re traveling with your kid or spouse, being face-to-face can be nice (we guess).
But if you’re around the sort of people one usually sits next to on airplanes, it would be horrible. At least if you’re all facing the same direction, you can pretend they don’t exist. Here, if you’re a human with peripheral vision, fat chance of that. We were horrified a few months ago at Airbus’ patent for a virtual reality helmet to mask the pain of being airborne in economy. Now it sounds like a decent idea.
If you’re having trouble picturing this, scroll through the many diagrams at the Daily Mail. Essentially, it’s the “love toilet” design from SNL come to life: Instead of sitting side by side with other passengers, you sit facing them on either side of you. Which is great, because … more elbow room, I guess? As the excerpt notes, there’s plenty of new space above the waist to stretch out. Packing more people into economy presumably means slightly cheaper fares too. And one of the big problems cited by critics, the fact that there’s no way to get to the farking bathroom if you’re in the middle, could be easily solved by letting the seats swivel. All you’d have to do to gain a path to the toilet is make eye contact with the passenger facing you — by now we all recognize the look of sudden urgency from someone who’s just had the hot-dog pizza — and then wait for him and the passenger sitting next to you to swing their legs towards the aisle. It’ll be awkward, but not much more awkward than the industry’s current sardine-can seating.
Let’s face it: The deeper problem here has nothing to do with personal space and everything to do with our antisocial age. You can almost hear the ominous music playing in the mind of the Telegraph editor as he wrote this headline:
Imagine if you will the horror of another human being occasionally looking at you over the course of three hours, 98 percent of which will be spent sleeping, reading, watching a movie, or screwing around on your smart phone. That sort of savagery is normally reserved for train travel, not the luxurious elegance of shoehorning yourself into a 20-inch wide seat three feet from an airborne outhouse in the back of an aging Southwest jet.
No, seriously, though, for someone as antisocial as me, this is a waking nightmare. I like the idea of free virtual reality headsets to help you zone out, but that doesn’t really solve the problem. Picture yourself popping off the headset mid-flight for a quick break only to find the dude opposite you with his own headset stowed away, watching you intently while he pops airline peanuts into his mouth. The discomfort with the hexagon design isn’t that you’re forced to look at other passengers but that other passengers get a chance to look at you, for as loooong as they want. The only solution, I think, is screens between the seats to block sightlines. That’ll make the close quarters even more cramped, but even that small modicum of privacy would help you relax. The last thing you want to do when you’re playing “Angry Birds” for six hours over the Atlantic Ocean is feel like you’re being watched.
Exit question: Do these seats recline? And if they do, how would that work? If I’m reading the diagrams correctly, dropping your seat back to make it near-horizontal for some shuteye would leave your head positioned somewhere between your neighbors’ nipples and groins.