Is this the grimly utilitarian future of air travel?

Last Updated Jul 17, 2015 6:31 AM EDT

For most people who fly, the declining standards of air travel have long been something been something of a grim joke. And even some airline leaders acknowledge that carriers, in the words of JetBlue's former CEO, have been "gouging the traveling public" with inflated prices and tacked-on fees. Then there's the issue of smaller passenger seats, as airlines try to squeeze as much profit out of every flight.

But there may even more ingenious ways to cram the paying public in a plane. Consider the new airline seat configuration proposed this month by Zodiac Seats France, a part of Zodiac Aerospace, which would have economy class air travelers facing each other and stacked in their rows like a set of child's interconnecting building blocks.

According to the company, the project "offers a solution to the issue of increasing the number of passengers in the cabin of a single-aisle airliner by increasing the space between seats by 15 percent, giving each passenger four more inches of available leg room."

Seem like a good "solution" to you, passengers? If the reaction online is any indication, the flying public is flat-out appalled at what many see as another yet another attempt to treat air passengers like cattle or, perhaps more accurately, cash cows.

Douglas Kidd, executive director of the National Association of Airline Passengers, says his organization agrees with the criticism already leveled against these seats.

"Moreover, we must point out there is no magic as to how higher [passenger] densities are achieved with these seats," he said in an email. "This is only possible by further reducing legroom (seat pitch) and the amount of cushion/upholstery provided for passenger comfort."

Kidd points out that the Federal Aviation Administration regulates seat weight capacity and support, as well as the specified minimum width of airplane aisles. It has also ruled there should be no more three seats placed on either side of an airplane aisle.

But neither seat width nor seat pitch is regulated by the FAA. Kidd says this is a growing issue, especially as airlines change their luggage allowances.

"Today's passenger tends to be larger and heavier than 50 years ago," he added, "and on most aircraft, there isn't enough overhead bin space for everyone if the plane is full. Moreover, flight attendants tell me that full flights increase their workload and stress as well."

Last year, the National Association of Airline Passengers filed a formal petition with the FAA,calling on the federal government to set standards guaranteeing that each airline passenger has adequate leg, hip and shoulder room.

"We do not agree with 'Wall Street's' formula for success -- reduced legroom, more seats and more fees, and decreased customer service," Kidd said. "This same approach was taken by ship operators two centuries ago, and resulted in several passenger acts passed by Congress to protect passengers."