A patent filed to the World Intellectual Property Organization by Zodiac Seats France, a division of Zodiac Aerospace, proposes a new space-saving design for passenger seats in the economy section.
How does it work? Each passenger would sit facing adjacent passengers instead of everyone facing the front of the plane.
Zodiac calls it the Economy Class Cabin Hexagon, owing to the vaguely hexagonal shape the seats take when seen from above.
Several diagrams in the patent application show different arrangements of the seats, as well as a closer look at where the typical cabin amenities such as collapsible food trays would be built into them. Some images show figures of passengers facing each other.
Zodiac's reasoning behind the design is "to increase cabin density while also creating seat units that increase the space available at the shoulder and arm area by creating an overlap in the shoulder areas of adjacent seats."
Social implications terrify commentators
The mere concept of sitting opposite multiple strangers on a flight thousands of metres in the air left several tech blogs and sites incredulous at the idea.
Gizmodo's Adam Clark Estes wrote that, "it almost seems like a sick joke or some misguided reference to the fear of an unknown serial killer." Vox's Phil Edwards wrote that one diagram, which shows how the seats would look from inside a plane's fuselage "looks like something from a future Mad Max sequel."
Wired's Jordan Golson called it "the most nightmarish idea for plane seating ever," adding that it would have to pass multiple real-world tests, including the ease of evacuating in the case of an emergency, before going into production.
Assuming the design ever makes it out of the patent office and into a real airliner, it wouldn't be the first mass transit vehicle to force passengers to uncomfortably confront strangers and/or friends and family into unavoidable social interactions. They're common on many trains, partially as a function of the cars being able to travel in both directions, and on many public transit vehicles such as subways and streetcars.
The Toronto Transit Commission's new streetcars, which first hit the road in 2014, sparked many commuters' anxiety when it was revealed that some pairs of seats would face each other, something not seen in older models.
"The worry was that riders would start bumping knees or otherwise be forced into rather un-Canadian public interactions," according to Torontoist, when the new cars were unveiled.