It may surprise you to know that the current standard for airline seat size dates back to 1954.
Boeing flew its first prototype in this year's Boeing 707.
Boeing reused core components like the fuselage as it created new aircraft and engines.
The 727, for example, was an essentially 707 with the engines at its back. The 737, still in production today, was essentially a 707 with two engines instead.
The 707 seats were arranged in six rows in "tourist" and "coach," which was pretty impressive for 1954. But that was almost 70 years ago.
Although you might not be able to recognize many people who were adults in 1954 or 1955, it is worth knowing their stories. You can also compare their stature and size with a healthy, fit 18-year-old today.
You'll notice that people are taller these days, with wider shoulders, wider hips, and larger heads.
The Boeing 737, which has a fuselage width that measures 148 inches (3.76m) like the 707s, still allows six people to be seated in each row.
It's no surprise that planes are cramped these days, even the Airbus A320s which offer an 18-inch seat or the Bombardier A220 (design by Bombardier, the C Series), which has 19".
What if single-aisle planes could be bigger? With a concept called Paradym, aviation interior design consultancy LIFT Aero Design asks this question.
Paradym's Managing Director Daniel Baron, and Aaron Yong, the design partner are openly revealing that Paradym truly does require a new paradigm. Wider planes.
Baron told CNN that Paradym was a configuration concept for next-generation single-aisle aircraft.
It offers a higher level of comfort for economy class passengers, with its wide triple-seat configuration. The idea of a single-aisle aircraft with a significantly wider fuselage than the 737 and A320 families is something completely different.
"Every row of Paradym would feature wide triple seats with 20 inches between the armrests, instead of the current 17-18. Each row would have two armrests instead of the current one.
This concept allows airlines to adjust the three seats to provide different levels of service depending on demand. You can also choose to lie flat.
Changing traveler needs
LIFT is asking this question at an especially pivotal moment, particularly for narrowbody single-aisle aircraft, which make up the majority of the world's medium-to-long-haul fleet and a small, but growing, portion of its long-haul services.
Boeing has taken the 1960s Boeing 737 airframe to the limit with the 737 MAX. Airbus is doing the same with the A320neo, an evolution of the 1980s' A320. This is in addition to the hydrogen power possibilities, so it appears likely that both plane makers will have to build a completely new narrowbody.
This is the right time to discuss expanding that plane.
"The simple fact is that in the age of rising airfares, work-from-home-forever and the incoming metaverse revolution, airlines will need to reinvent themselves to stay relevant," Baron argues.
As more space is given to luxury seats and premium classes, the space in long-haul economy classes has been shrinking. People are growing in all directions. With ultra-long-haul flights that can take up to 16-20 hours, the seat width standards of yesterday may not be enough to make long-haul flying appealing.
Covid-19 has also changed how many people see their personal "bubble". Rising rates of disruption by unruly passengers may be linked to the fact that the rows of seats are a lot closer than in years past and that there are more of them.
In the 1990s, most mainline airlines had nine economy seats per row when the Boeing 777 was first introduced to the skies. Almost all airlines have 10 economy seats today. Today, almost all of them have 10.
This makes perfect sense from an airline accountant's perspective. This is the accepted wisdom of the aviation industry and the continuing success of low-cost carriers. It means that passengers can choose to fly on the basis only price and schedule.
"A cabin without curtains or dividers"
Baron says that while airlines have access to sophisticated revenue management software to adjust airfares, they cannot physically adjust seats in multiclass aircraft to meet changing demand.
Some have tried, like with the kind of convertible seat previously used by some European carriers to create a wider berth for their middle-seat-free-economy Eurobusiness-style seating, but this has now largely been removed.
Baron states that "moving forward" is key for airlines to sustain profitability. "The ability to adapt the whole experience to customers' needs will be the key to their sustainability."
These requirements can change between trips. A road warrior may have different needs if she's flying alone to Omaha for a day or with her family traveling eight hours to Europe overnight.
Aaron Yong, LIFT's director of product management, says that there is a growing trend towards product unbundling. This refers to individual products such as extra legroom, better meals and lounge access.
"In the future, there will be more demand for flexibility in seat products and inflight services options. Paradym's primary benefit for airlines is its ability to sell multiple products from a single aircraft seat model. Customers could book any experience offered by the airline and the airline would be able adjust to maximize revenue generation until departure.
"Paradym imagines a cabin without curtains or dividers," Yong explains. Yong compares triple-seat sets to sets with four seats or quads.
Products have replaced traditional classes. An airline could offer any row from nose-tail as economy, premium economy, and/or a lay flat product. In other words, the customer can purchase three seats and get a sleeping surface almost as large as a quad. This could be sold with premium food, IFE, and amenities, and it could also be combined with premium food.
This might not be true for some of the well-respected brands such as United Polaris, Delta One, British Airways Club World and United Polaris.
New airlines are opening all the time and the old guard often realizes the real benefits of the new way of doing business.
But is that enough to make a Paradym switch?