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Is the Middle Seat About to Get Wider on Some Planes?

Molon Labe middle seat design.
Molon Labe

A new plane seat design from a startup called Molon Labe Seating aims to provide a wider middle seat on short-haul flights, and the company says two unnamed airlines are set to try out the change in 2020. The design would afford three extra inches of shoulder room to anyone who gets stuck in the middle seat, changing its seatback width from 18 to 21 inches.

How Airlines Could Change Middle Seat Size

The trick to the change is staggering the middle seat to be a few inches shorter and sit a few inches behind the outer seats—so that the middle-seat occupant’s shoulders aren’t rubbing neighbor seat shoulders. The graphics look convincing (see the video below), but you won’t know for sure whether the new seats really work until some airline installs them and flies real-life passengers around. According to CNN, two airlines have committed to the expanded middle seat design, one of which is a U.S.-based airline (Molon Labe didn’t name either airline).

“We have discovered that what looks like a small stagger actually makes a huge difference,” said Molon Labe founder Hank Scott. “The trick is to actually sit in the seat. In fact our main sales tool is to ship seats to airlines so they can sit in them.”

Innovative approaches to easing the tight squeeze on economy class passengers have come and gone—with some even floating the idea of abolishing the middle seat—but the new Molon Labe seat appears to be the first to garner a real airline customer.

One possible problem that the designers aren’t highlighting: Will the backward intrusion of the middle seats make it harder for window seat occupants in the row behind to get up and out into the aisle? Actual passenger reports are eagerly anticipated.

What to Wear on Your Next Flight

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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