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OM in the News: Designing the Perfect Airline Seat–To Maximize Revenue

September 10, 2014

airplane seatYesterday’s New York Times (Sept. 9, 2014) featured not 1, not 2, but 3 articles on how airlines are addressing the issue of cramped seats! In the 1st, we find that the European budget carrier Ryanair just announced an agreement to purchase up to 200 new Boeing 737s (a $22 billion deal), each of which will allow that airline to squeeze an additional 8 seats into the single-aisle airframe. Ryanair will fit the planes with a whopping 197 seats, stripping out the front and rear galleys to help the redesign.

The 2nd article, titled “In Flight Rage,” confirms that cramped conditions in the back of a plane can severely test passenger equanimity. We have seen this in recent episodes in which pilots have made emergency landings when a few passengers have fought over seat-reclining. One prof, comparing people to livestock, finds that international regulations on flying animals specify the “need space to travel comfortably and on a long journey, the animal must be able to stretch, turn round, drink and groom itself.” Sounds better than a coach seat!

airline seatingThe 3rd piece gets to the heart of the matter–ergonomics, and ties in perfectly to Chapter 10. The real issue, says Prof. Kathleen Robinette at Oklahoma State U., is that airline seats are not designed to fully accommodate the human body in its various shapes and sizes. “We are fighting each other, but the seats are not designed right,” she says. Her study of 4,431 people found that seats are designed for a man in the 95th percentile of measurements.  This means 1 in 20 men will be using seats that are too small for them. “That’s about 10 people on every plane, as well as all the people sitting next to them,” she adds. A big flaw in seat design, however, is that men in the 95th percentile are not necessarily larger than women. For about 1 in 4 women, the seat will be too small at the hips. Of even greater concern is the risk of blood clots, including a potentially deadly condition called deep vein thrombosis, which can occur when sitting in a way so you can’t move for about a 1/2 hour.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. What are the OM tradeoffs here?

2. Why is ergonomics an important issue on planes?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2014 5:19 am

    Hello there, I just want to comment that I am using this piece of information, -you might find it in the Financial Times, 08-09-14 as well, to discuss about how Ryanair estimates its demand and the best number of available seats for flight and destination. (Chapter: Forecasting Demand)

    Prof. María Alvarez, University Carlos III de Madrid, Spain

  2. September 16, 2014 1:34 am

    Thank you, Professor Alvarez. We are pleased that you are using our book in Spain. Is it the English, Global, or Spanish edition?

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