An economy seat that changes to a business-class seat (and back again) is the new buzz in the airline industry. (Illustration: Paperclip Design Limited)
A proposed new airline seat shares the exact same concept as the “Transformers” — except instead of turning from a robot into an airplane or car, these seats can switch from economy to business class.
The transforming seats, dubbed the Butterfly Flexible Seating Solution, took the top prize earlier this month at the International Air Transport Association‘s Passenger Innovation Awards in San Diego.
The Butterfly Seats, designed by James Lee of Hong Kong-based Paperclip Design, are getting buzz because they give airlines the ability to adjust their seating configurations at will: On one flight, an airline could opt for more premium economy seats; on the next flight, the airline could rework its cabin to have more business-class seats. It sure beats having to switch out planes.
Airlines have the option of folding down a premium-class seat to create an instant business-class suite. (Illustration: Paperclip Design Limited)
Paperclip’s website has an illustrated description of its Butterfly seating concept. The premium economy configuration offers a potential end to the armrest wars. It has a staggered design, with one seat positioned slightly in front of the adjacent seat, giving seat neighbors maximum width and better access to both armrests.
A staggered design gives premium economy seats maximum width — about 21 inches (many economy seats are only 18 inches wide). (Illustration: Paperclip Design Limited)
To change seating to business class, all the airline has to do is flip one of the seats down, forming a flat surface. Presto: You now have a private suite for one with a seat and side couch.
And when the business-class passenger wants to go to sleep, he or she flips over the aisle seat as well to form a bed that’s 77 inches long and up to a maximum 44 inches wide at the hip area. Paperclip describes this new result as “a large sleeping surface long enough for passengers to lay flat diagonally across” (of course, the question is how many of us would be comfortable sleeping diagonally).
Business-class passengers can fold down another seat to form an instant bed. (Illustration: Paperclip Design Limited)
The business-class arrangement offers passengers the opportunity to convert the side couches back to seats, in case there are two seatmates who want to get close. But it appears that economy-class passengers won’t be able to adjust their seats to the lie-flat configuration. The one exception: Paperclip says that airlines may decide to activate the couch on an economy seat to accommodate a child who’s having trouble sleeping, in order to “bring tranquility to the people around.” In other words: Do what you have to do to quiet that screaming baby.
While the Butterfly is winning kudos, whether you’ll ever see it on a plane is an open question. It has yet to be snapped up by a seat manufacturer, much less an airline. But given its built-in practical advantage — allowing airlines to maximize their profits by adjusting their seating classes to fit demand — don’t be surprised to one day see this Butterfly take flight.