In the near future, would a newer “cattle class” emerge for travellers on budget airlines, where the flight passengers would be standing up (or sort of sit-stand) or sitting in a perch seat while flying? Not yet, though.

In fact, this May, an IndiGo flight from Mumbai to Varanasi had to abort its takeoff because flight attendants noticed someone standing in the shadows at the back of the aircraft. And it reignites this two-decade-old discussion.

It’s not as though no one has ever stood throughout an airline flight. Six passengers stood the whole five-hour flight from Antalya, Turkey, to Ekaterinburg, Russia, on the now-defunct Tatarstan Airlines in 2010 due to a plane change that left them without their reserved seats. They were offered seats on the following flight seven hours later. Maybe they made the decision to make history by standing up.

Crucially, an incident that occurred around the same time as IndiGo’s Mumbai-Varanasi flight event serves as a reminder of the significance of aviation safety. A horrible incident involving a passenger’s death and numerous others suffering significant injuries occurred on a Singapore Airlines flight that was struck by strong turbulence. However, if wearing a seat belt while flying is the most feasible way to ensure safety, why not create a belt that permits standing?

Ideas galore

Designing such an arrangement should not be hard, though. It’s fascinating to see that a lot of people have previously had similar ideas and attempts. At the 2010 Aircraft Interiors Expo Americas in Long Beach, California, Italian seat manufacturer Aviointeriors unveiled the SkyRider, a “standing seat” with a belt. Earlier, Airbus introduced the vertical seat concept in 2003.

In order to assess the feasibility of a perch seat, Airbus conducted covert surveys of airlines in 2006. Around 2010, a few airlines expressed interest in using vertical seats to “revolutionise” passenger behaviour. These included Irish airline Ryanair and Chinese airline Spirit Airlines. Tigerair Australia expressed interest as well.

Nevertheless, regulatory bodies have been quite sceptical about such business ideas. The regulatory bodies have not yet given their approval to these particular seat arrangements and designs. The UK Civil Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency, for example, expressed doubts about the design’s ability to comply with licensing standards. The absence of a seat could make the design illegal in the UK because, for example, passengers are required to wear seat belts during landing and takeoff, as per UK aviation regulations.

Professor of aerospace engineering at Universiti Putra Malaysia, Fairuz Izzuddin Romli, and two of his colleagues examined the potential impact of “standing cabins” on enhancing the competitiveness of low-cost airlines in a 2014 research paper published in the International Journal of Engineering and Technology.

Cost factor

The paper examined the potential effects of standing cabins on improving the competitiveness of low-cost airlines and examined the extent to which lowering the price of flight tickets to a level competitive with buses and trains can be achieved by increasing the number of passengers on board the aircraft.

They looked into the idea of a standing passenger cabin, in which passengers are flown in an upright position within the aeroplane cabin. Their research estimated that a standing cabin would result in a 21 per cent increase in passenger capacity and a 44 per cent decrease in ticket prices, using the Boeing 737-300 as an example.

Well, the concept of a standing cabin has not yet come to pass. Will it become a reality in the future with the approval of various aviation authorities and perhaps with the amendment of the regulations and also the designs? Not sure. But, in that case, there will definitely be a new “cattle class” that will emerge.

The writer is Professor of Statistics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata