The vertically stretched torture tube for economy class flight gets its public debut this coming week, although that is not how its designer describes it.

Aviointeriors calls its solution to demand from ‘certain carriers’ for standing room cabins the ‘Sky Rider’, and compares it to riding a horse or a bike.

A misleadingly comfy looking Sky Rider, Aviointeriors image
A misleadingly comfy looking Sky Rider, Aviointeriors image

The Italian seat designer and maker, for buses and trains as well as airliners, is revealing its Sky Rider product at the Aircraft Interiors Expo Americas 2010 show at Long Beach on Tuesday and Wednesday.

It claims the Sky Rider delivers more compact seating densities while meeting the safety requirements of restraining passengers for takeoffs and landings ands during turbulence.

The tall and tight format also creates space for carry-on luggage under the semi-seat, even though the seat pitch is only 59 cms, (or 23 inches for elderly or American readers).

That is 22-23 cms less space than found in most economy class seating today.

A more realistic view of the tall and tight Sky Rider seats
A more realistic view of the tall and tight Sky Rider seats

Note that one of the Sky Rider images shows a model sitting comfortably with her legs occupying what would be an entire extra row of Sky Rider ‘positions’.

But maybe the idea of a semi-seat in short haul air travel IS going to catch on.

There are several points to make about the Sky Rider after an initial sense of dread wears off.

If you have even flown in the cabins of a UK holiday charter airline with only 67-68 cms of seat pitch, and I have, you would most likely rather be standing up than seated, and this semi-seat Sky Rider looks like something to sit into with more comfort than either of those options.

However Sky Rider type seats would not allow Michael O’Leary at Ryanair to fit say 350 people into one of his 189 seat Boeing 737-800s.

This is not just because that at 189 seats the 737 is at its maximum certified seat configuration for the doors and overwing exits.

Even if Boeing could be persuaded to spend a huge amount of money redesigning the doors and exits for a 350 passenger load, the takeoff performance and engine failure requirements and range would be so compromised that many routes flown by the type would be unavailable, especially on a hot day at Queenstown or Wellington or Ballina.

Many airfields that are adequate for emergency diversions for a 189 seat Boeing 737 would not be acceptable for one carrying 300-350 people.

As a result, Sky Rider seating in current airliners would be a way of saving space in economy that could then become available for more spacious premium seats elsewhere in the cabin, while keeping passenger numbers at or below the total certified limit.

And even that comes with a caveat. The 737-800 and –900ER, and the Airbus A321, are all susceptible to weight and balance issues when there is an undue concentration of passengers near the rear doors during loading or unloading. Sky Rider seating would need to be over the wings, rather than at the rear, and that in turn might require additional overwing emergency exits to pass the test of a full evacuation of the cabin in 90 seconds with only half the exits working.

The real potential of Sky Rider type seating is thus unlikely to be realised until the successors to the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families are designed at the outset to provide for this high density format on short haul routes.

That trip between Melbourne and Sydney or Brisbane in the 2020s may be closer to being like a ride on a sky metro than we might have thought until now.