Flying Backward

So here’s the latest idea in airline seating: turn the middle seats backward. The argument is that it gives passengers more room and allows the airlines to pack more seats on a plane.

I read about it in USA Today, which reports that a British company introduced this configuration, with the middle seat facing backward, at a trade show in Germany last week. The company says that passengers end up with more room for elbows, legs and, especially, shoulders.

The down side, it would seem, is having to sit facing the strangers in the seats around you. So say some horrified frequent fliers on the FlyerTalk forums. (Someday I’ll get into flier vs. flyer. But for now let me say this: it’s flier.)

Anyway, I don’t like this idea. I’ve been in train seats that faced each other, two and two. That’s OK. But turning the middle seat around while leaving the aisle and window facing forward puts one passenger’s face just inches from another’s. I’m too American to be comfortable with that.

And sitting backward on a plane is uncomfortable. When the plane takes off, you don’t get pressed backward into your seat but forward into the seatbelt. And as it climbs at an angle, you keep sliding forward.

How do I know? I once flew in the backward-facing seats that Southwest used to put on the bulkheads of its 737s. (It was a business trip and the boss made me sit there. Thanks, Gary.) In any event it was just too freaky.

Southwest stopped configuring its planes that way for a reason. And I don’t think the backward middle seats are going to catch on. They’re just unnatural. But if they do, I suspect that we passengers won’t end up with any extra space – it will all go toward squeezing more seats on the plane.

So just picture us. Sitting backward, sliding off our seats, staring at each other, packed in closer than ever. Yikes.


2 thoughts on “Flying Backward

  1. Sarah

    Just read this… as a physics major, I have to point out the flying backwards isn’t any more uncomfortable than flying forwards, it’s just that the sensations of takeoff and landing are reversed. All things being equal, it’s impossible to tell the difference between taking off facing forwards and descending facing backwards, or vice versa.

  2. Jeanne Leblanc

    I think you would be correct, Sarah, if planes ascended and descended at the same angle. But they take off with the nose way up, at a steep pitch, and land with it slightly up. So you get pitched forward into the seatbelt forcefully on takeoff if you are seated backward. That doesn’t happen when you land facing forward.


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