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Boeing Flirts with High-Density Business Class

To the dismay and discomfort of the great majority of air travelers, the recent history of airline seating has mirrored the widening disparity in Americans’ incomes: first- and business-class seats have become ever plusher and more capacious even as coach-class seats have been steadily stripped of what little cushioning and legroom they once had.

Apparently convinced that the 1% should be made to share in the 99%’s suffering, Boeing has filed a patent application proposing to stuff 12 business-class seats in every row of some of its wide-body aircraft.

For comparison, American outfits its Boeing 777s with four-across seating in business class. United’s B747s, used for international flights, feature eight-across business-class seating. And so on. Twelve across? Unheard of, until now.

The trick, in Boeing’s design (illustrations are here), is a seat design that tapers at the foot end, conforming more closely to the V-shape of a typical body. That would allow an airline to place four groups of three tightly-packed seats across a single row, with three aisles. Entering and exiting the inside-most seats would be a squeeze, and passengers would find their faces in uncomfortably close proximity to their seatmates’ feet.

Better than coach, or even premium economy, unquestionably. But the sardine seats, as they are likely to be dubbed, would be a decided downgrade from even the most modest of the business-class seats in current use.

The threat is hardly imminent. Boeing and Airbus are constantly filing patents for novel seating approaches that never see the light of day. On the other hand, the airlines’ obsession with squeezing the most revenue from every square inch of aircraft space shouldn’t be underestimated. If that means taking business-class flyers down a peg, well, there’s always first class.

Reader Reality Check

At what point is business class no longer worth paying for?

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