I'm only a few inches taller than the average American woman, but I have long legs, so typical economy airplane seats give me knee aches (I never get a knee ache in any other situation, ever); my boyfriend is 6'2" and gets upset even thinking about window or middle seat. It's aisle or misery. And forget about if you are normal weight but bottom-heavy, overweight, or have limited mobility in one or both of your legs. Unless you are willing to pony up double the price to move up a class, you are destined to be uncomfortable for the duration of your flight — and possibly responsible for someone else's discomfort (which in many ways can be worse; your body shape is your body shape). 

We all have an airplane horror story: Mine is being smooshed against the window when a very overweight couple took the aisle and middle seats (and part of the space in my seat, and I'm not exactly tiny). I happened to have been battling food poisoning on a return flight from Central America and there was no way I was going to be able to get to the bathroom in a hurry — being smooshed when you are ill is a special kind of torture. I know they felt badly, but there wasn't much they could do, and I was too sick to complain (and the flight was sold out).

But what if each of us bought the amount of seat that our body size needed? Sure, some people might cheat, but most of us wouldn't. 

A British design company, Seymourpowell, is out to improve airline seating — for everyone (yes, this includes coach!). Up until now, there have been plenty of innovations to the typical airplane seat, but they were all for business or first class. This new design, a flexible-width seat, uses smart design thinking to give more room to those who might need it (and/or are willing to pay more). 

Called the Morph seat, it works by having armrests that slide horizontally, so the width of the seat is adjustable in all sorts of configurations. A large father with two little children can take half of the bench, and the two kids can take child-appropriate seats, or two adults can share the bench with just a small space in between (a boon for those times when the middle seat isn't taken and you don't know the other person in your row). 

According to Seymourpowell's blog, "As just one sheet of fabric is used across three seats, the dividers can be moved laterally and then clamped down in a different position and so adjusting the width of each individual seat. Families traveling together can tailor their seats according to size, for example a Mum and Dad with an infant could pre-book a large, medium and a small space." And it doesn't recline in the typical fashion (instead you lean back into the seat structure, but the structure itself doesn't move), which is a great innovation for anyone who likes to use the tray table to work on and lives in fear of the electronics getting crushed by an overzealous recliner in front of you. 

This seams like a real, workable solution to the space problem in coach, and especially ideal for families traveling together. While I can't afford to pay for a business class ticket, I would be happy to pony up $50 or so for more comfort in coach (just as I often do now for more legroom). Since width isn't my biggest issue, I might not use this feature as much as someone else, but if I was ill or it was a longer flight, I would consider it. Having more flexibility has got to be a good thing, and this would also be a way for airlines to get additional revenue while still keeping flights affordable. And skinny and small folk could end up saving money by selling off extra space rights if they wanted to, which could benefit them too. 

I'm not sure how booking would work, but that seems a problem that a computer program would solve, no? 

What do you think? Would you like a width-adjustable seat on your next flight? If so, how would you use it? 

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

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