The Evolution of the Airline Seat

From Wicker to Wow!

The commercial aviation industry has changed a great deal since it first became an integral part of the way we travel. Through the years the term ‘customer is king’ has been followed religiously in the industry with each and every airline doing whatever possible to ensure that their passengers are offered the best services and what is now come to be known as ‘flying experience’. As any frequent traveler, what the most important part of any journey is and he/she will tell you, ‘a comfortable seat’.

Since the dawn of the airline, the airplane seat has changed radically from wicker chairs to seats that convert into fully reclined beds that are placed in their own individual cabins, ensuring optimum privacy. Air India Express takes a walk down memory lane and shows you how far the humble airplane seat has come.

Wicker Airline Seat - 1919
Wicker Airline Seat – 1919

The very first airline seats were made of wicker to ensure that they were lightweight and fit well into the then narrow and long aircraft. The first seats were most commonly wicker chairs which had little to  no cushioning and no seat belts. At first, the passengers used to sit in two rows right behind the pilot as there were no partitions or cabins separating the passenger seating from the cockpit. The planes also didn’t include any sort of heating on cooling mechanisms on board which meant that flights were not only much longer that they are now, but also rather uncomfortable.

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Interior of an aircraft, 1926.
Interior of an aircraft, 1926.

The 1930’s saw the use of aluminum and cushioned seating replacing the wicker chairs. As aluminum became more affordable, the Aluminium Company of America introduced a light metal passenger seat which eliminates the warping, infestation and combustibility issues of wooden chairs.

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Gradually the possibility of the aviation industry grew. The designers were inspired by the luxury express train and ocean liners and airplanes with separate compartments for 2-3 people. In 1938 a flight from London to Brisbane Australian lasted 11 days (on a ship it took more than a month) and assumed about 20 stopovers on the way. Here are a few images of the British airline Imperial Airways’ Australian flights.

Imperial Airline's flights to Australia took 8 days. The interior of the flights were made to be luxurious but occupied only a few passengers.
Imperial Airways’ flights to Australia took 8 days. The interior of the flight was made to be luxurious but occupied only a few passengers.
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Leasure room and dining spaces onboard the Imperial Airways.

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In 1936 chairs with foam-rubber cushions became a popular trend on all airlines, owning to its resilience, softness and light-weight.

In 1949 Pan Am introduced the world to the Boeing 377, “Stratocruiser.” The double deck aircraft was one of the first to offer sleeper seats and berths to customers dawning a new era in airline seats.

Pan Am's Sleeperette - 1949.
Pan Am’s Sleeperette – 1949.

In 1996 British Airways launched the first fully flat airplane seat for their First Class passengers that could be converted from a normal fully upright seat with a large space fro legroom which would be utilized when the seat is converted into a flatbed (the airline even offered sleepwear to their passengers).

British Airways' First Class Sleepers - 1996.
British Airways’ First Class Sleepers – 1996.

In 1998 British Airways became one of the first airways to spend over US$250 million to update its economy section by installing headrests with ‘wings’ to prevent what passengers had often referred to as a ‘mid-air head flop’. The ‘wings’ at the side of headrests later became a regular feature as they were not only more comfortable by also held the passengers head in place while they were resting in-flight.

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The ‘wings’ on the headrests onboard British Airways flights.

In 2007, Singapore Airlines outfitted its A380 superjumbo with 12 First Class Suites. Each had its own 23-inch video screen and bed that can be joined with another to accommodate two people.

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Singapore Airlines’ First Class Suite – 2007

While in the years that followed, most of the advancement in airline seats was reserved mainly for the Business Class and First Class options of premium airlines, that aimed for opulence, luxury, and privacy, there were a few airlines that took the effort into making even Economy class seating a comfortable one.

At present, Qatar Airways has been voted as the airline with the best and most highly rated Economy Class that has received the highest rating for comfort and travel experience. Here’s a peek into the Qatar Airways economy cabin.

Qatar Airways

Air New Zealand recently introduced the ‘Skycouch’ – better known and popularly referred to as ‘Cuddle Class’, a row of three seats that transforms into a futon-like bed for two. Travelers have embraced a revolutionary loveseat-like arrangement which transforms from an economy-class row of three seats into a bed with the touch of a button.

Air New Zealand's Skycouch
Air New Zealand’s Skycouch

Air New Zealand is now working on their new concept called ‘Premium Economy’ class which will feature their new seating option- the Spaceseat.

Air New Zealand's 'Spaceseat'.
Air New Zealand’s ‘Spaceseat’.

Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek into the decadent seating options onboard some of the world’s best airlines’ First Class and Business.

Emirates is known for deluxe treatment. Passengers are not only treated like royalty onboard the flight, they are also provided with five star food and beverage service, complimentary toiletries and pajamas, use of a limousine, an in-flight shower to freshen up, an onboard bar, caviar and Dom Pérignon champagne while flying first class.

First Class Suite on-board Emirates A380.
First Class Suite on-board Emirates A380.

Class cabins.

Etihad Airlines' First Class Experience onboard A380 from London to Abu Dhabi
Etihad Airlines’ First Class Experience onboard A380 from London to Abu Dhabi
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Japan Airline’s first class sleeping pod.
Air France first class seating.
Air France first class seating.
Garuda Indonesia's first class booths are compact but luxurious.
Garuda Indonesia’s first class booths are compact but luxurious.

Swiss International Airlines was rated as the cheapest for a one-way first class ticket – £219 (Rs.17,894 approx.) from Muscat to Dubai – and the airlines even offer their first class passengers a complimentary limousine ride. Here’s a look at their first class booths.

First class booths on-board Swiss International Airlines.
First class booths onboard Swiss International Airlines.

Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines was rated as the best First Class experience. Passengers are served 2004 Dom Pérignon, provided with pajamas to sleep in and sit on a spacious armchair hand-stitched by Italian craftsmen – their most leg room friendly design to date. First class suites come with a double bed option as well as five-star food and drink service.

Singapore Airlines First Class suite with complementary champagne.
Singapore Airlines First Class suite with complementary champagne.

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