The “most nightmarish idea for plane seating ever” – but could it work?

French supplier Zodiac Seats has patented a new flight seating arrangement that will see some passengers face the rear of a plane. Wired referred to this as “the most nightmarish idea for plane seating ever” – we ask designers whether they agree, or whether the concept could work.


Zodiac Seats France has patented the “Economy Class Hexagon” aeroplane seating concept – which takes out the middle seat in the aisle and reverses it.

Wired has described the design as “the most nightmarish idea for plane seating ever“. We ask designers whether they agree, or if they think the hexagon seating idea might fly.

Nigel Goode, director, PriestmanGoode
Nigel Goode, director, PriestmanGoode

“Over the last few years, there has been a lot of experimentation with different types of layouts, as airlines and manufacturers try to marry seat count with efficiency.

The volume of coverage and number of comments that Zodiac Seats’ Hexagon concept has spurred shows just how passionate people are about travelling and issues around personal space. What interests me most in the concept is the innovation that it then fosters. I think it’s unlikely that an airline would implement it, but blue-sky ideas like these are essential as catalysts for further innovation in our industry.”

Martin Darbyshire, co-founder, Tangerine
Martin Darbyshire, chief executive, tangerine

“Passenger desire for cheaper fares continues to drive the industry to find solutions that marry increased density with acceptable experience. Zodiac Seats’ Hexagon introduces some interesting ideas, but obviously presents numerous challenges, privacy being the most obvious.

When tangerine designed BA’s Club World seat in 1998, people jumped to conclusions about flying backwards. But the tangible benefits brought by the world’s first lie-flat bed in business class changed the industry.

It’s much easier to tear down an idea than find workable solutions to such constraining problems. You need to experience and refine such ideas before you fully appreciate the value they bring.”

Robbie Gill, founder, The Design Solution

“Apart from the most obvious flaws – how to get in and out, where to rest a beer when you’re weary after a business trip, and what to do with your book or laptop – the most personal one is that you end up staring at a stranger in close range for potentially hours. BA business class got around this principle in its face-to-face seating layout, courtesy of the space and the retractable vanity screen. There is however two markets for who this seating might apply – 18 to 30s holiday charters or ‘Swingers Air’. Perhaps it might work after all.”

Adrian Berry, director, factorydesign
Adrian Berry, director, factorydesign

“The numbers quest in economy means companies and airlines are on the hunt for configurations that will, ultimately, all have an effect on customer experience.

Really all they are doing here is protecting the principal of the layout at its most basic. With clever and considered design detailing, some of the problem issues mentioned can be improved – but the layout will, inevitably, always have personal space issues.

On paper, the configuration would actually work – I have seen similar before. But when you try and get more people in the same space, the experience becomes fairly intense!

Many airlines will look at it with scepticism – but maybe budget carriers will see it as a way to offer cheaper seats. If passengers want to continue flying cheaply, then companies need to keep investigating such options. Then it is up to us to choose…”

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  • Martin Rayala July 16, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    It seems the choice is whether you want to sit close to someone with your bodies touching or would like more elbow room. Robbie’s idea about “Swingers Air” is a clever thought but if I wanted to “connect” with someone, like in a restaurant, I would sit next to them rather than across from them. The Hexagon seating seems to provide more personal space rather than less. Train travelers are already quite accustomed to sitting “backward” in a moving vehicle as are passengers in a limousine. This seems more like an upscale rather than an “economy” solution.

  • Martin Rayala August 6, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    Robbie points out the most obvious flaws – how to get in and out (How do we get in and out now? I don’t see a difference.), where to rest a beer when you’re weary after a business trip (Where do we rest a beer now? Every seat has a seat back in front of them just like they do now.), and what to do with your book or laptop (Again, where do you put them now? The mock-up doesn’t show a seat tray and storage compartment but that feature can be placed right there on the seat back in front of you just like now.) – the most personal one is that you end up staring at a stranger in close range for potentially hours (Yes, I can see a problem with that if you are the type who stares at the back of the seat in front of you for hours when you fly. I tend to be reading, doing work, using an electronic device, or sleeping. With this new configuration I can do those things without physically touching the shoulders and arms of the people next to me.) If I had to share a close space with a stranger like in a bed, a table, or lounge, I would not sit or lie down next to them. Lying down I would be head to feet rather than head to head, seating I would select a seat across from them rather than next to them. Can you imagine someone asking to share a table in a crowded restaurant sitting down next to you (that would be weird) rather than across from you.

  • Mark Penrice November 7, 2016 at 11:33 am

    I see where they’re coming from, but propose a different and less crazy solution – just staggering the seats whilst still having them face forwards. Either offset the middle one backwards by a certain amount (I briefly considered forwards but it would just be awkward, especially for access), or have the whole row on a diagonal (in which case either way works). Both achieve the same aim of no longer having shoulders, elbows, hips and knees all lining up together, and should allow both slightly higher capacity with slightly better elbow and leg room… Might even be easier to get in and out!

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