Ask most passengers today what their first priority is when they travel and most would answer with one simple word: safety. And after that? Comfort often takes the prize. According to Recaro Aircraft Seating CEO Mark Hiller, the two are more connected than you’d suspect.
Speaking at an educational day during a session at the recent AEX/IFSA EXPO in Anaheim entitled “Functionality Meets Luxury: How to Assume Comfort & Safety”, Hiller said: “Comfort is really something which is not objective; it’s really about the perception and it’s really very much about personal experience.”
Hiller went on to say that: “Comfort is about seating, its about IFE, it’s about seat widths, back lengths, aisle access, there are so many other things to think about and normally, if [a passenger] is thinking about it, it’s not working for [them]. Therefore comfort and discomfort are somehow connected … discomfort can be measured and comfort is more or less the psychological aspect.”
“The bad thing about it is that discomfort has a dominant effect,” says Hiller. “So, if discomfort is there, maybe you will not really experience comfort. They may be present at the same time, but, discomfort really will be the most experienced [sensation].” As such, Recaro is focused on getting rid of the discomfort first by designing the most comfortable chair possible. “Take care of the experience and the expectation and you take care of the comfort.”
And while many in the aircraft seating space, in particular designers from other industries often refer to seating design as “paint by numbers”, Hiller says, the challenges “are in the details”.
He adds, “Comfort is all about the body and supporting the body, so, therefore when we are designing a new seat, we are not starting with a seat or a seat structure we are starting with the human body.
“The best seat in the market is the seat that doesn’t need any space, which supports the passenger but doesn’t occupy any more space. Therefore we have introduced the slim line seat, which means we have reduced the backrest to a minimum to give as much space [as possible] back to the passenger. And by optimizing our structure and also by implementing our patented solution we increased the living space by almost two inches, which means the airline can increase the comfort by maintaining the same number of seats. Or, if a carrier decides they’d rather increase the passenger [numbers], this innovation can increase that number by 10% as well.”
And if that didn’t hold your interest, what Hiller did next literally stopped the crowd in their tracks. Showing a video of the effects of a 16g crash on a seated dummy, Hiller pondered why the airline industry is so hesitant to tout their safety record.
“Nobody’s doing marketing on safety, even though airline travel remains the safest way to travel. Even as we, as airline seat providers, spend more than one third of our R&D budget on safety … we aren’t talking about it,” says Hiller.
And while the simple answer is that it would probably scare anxious travellers even more, Hiller suggested that airlines could actually increase the all-important comfort level of their passengers by reassuring them how safe it is to fly. And he made a pretty good case for it as well.
“In our industry, [safety] is a non-topic, but it other industries, it’s the key selling point.” said Hiller. “Think about child seats. In Europe, each seat is rated, two star, five star, and the companies are using it for marketing to give the buyers a better feeling about buying or using a very safe product.” And Hiller said the same thing should go for the airlines as well.
“For [Recaro], our brand identity is about fascinating our customers with straight, basic solutions for better seating and there are two major elements to that.” said Hiller. “One is ingenious design … the combination of esthetics, functionality and ergonomics and it’s also, the feel better [aspects] of comfort, which is about all the psychological aspects and the perceptions … the brand.” And at the end of the day, Hiller says it all comes back to comfort and safety, “which is a must-have for all our products.”
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