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Airbus seeks patent for seat to fit wider passengers

WASHINGTON, D.C. --Airbus, a leading aircraft manufacturer, is floating an idea that could revolutionize the in-flight experience.

A new take on the airline seat could make it possible for airlines to charge based on a person's size.

Jetmaker Airbus wants to patent a seating concept taking a row of three airline seats and turning it into a "rapidly and easily re-configureable" bench.

Think flying station wagon.


It could seat the traditional three passengers, shift to two people who need additional space -- including "overweight passengers" -- or even fit a 4th person, like a two parents and two small children.

"The airlines will consider anything that allows them to make a buck," said Ben Mutzabaugh, editor of USA Today's "Today in the Sky" blog.

"If we've seen nothing else in the airline industry, they're very clever with coming up with ways to sell seats to passengers, especially when they can charge more for either seats that are better or for seats that are less awful."

Airbus previously sought patents for a design stacking passengers, a semi-standing concept.

Rendering of stacking concept
Airbus/European Patent Office

Zodiac Seats US created a hexagon pattern where the middle seat faces the passengers in the aisle and window, while adding up to 30 more passengers per plane.

But Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen worries extra seats could jeopardize safety, making it hard to evacuate within the required 90 seconds.

He's authored a bill requiring the Federal Aviation Administration to set minimum seat-size standards.

"If people can't get out of an airplane in an emergency condition, they lose their lives," he said. "It shouldn't be after there's an accident, after there's an accident it's too late, and people are dead."

It still remains to be seen whether an airline expresses interest in the idea and whether safety regulators will even allow it in a commercial plane.

Patent filings are a bit like concept cars at an auto show. Airbus says it applies for hundreds of patents a year and the vast majority never become fully realized technology or products.