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Adaptive airplane seating and airfare

The solution to fat people on planes, not enough legroom, paying for room you don't use, and other airplane seating problems
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Inspired by "Fat people rows in coach" [link] and [bristolz]'s and {Loris]'s suggestions there. This fits partly in several categories of [Vehicle: Airplane], so I'm putting it in the more general category.

Warm up your author identifiers…

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When you book a flight with us, in addition to saying where you want to fly and when, and with how much checked luggage, you enter the width of your body, your desired amount of legroom, and the total mass of your body, wearables, and carryons. These are only estimates for now, and you can update them at any point before you get to the airport. Once you have entered them, an estimate of your airfare price will be shown, and you pay this much for your ticket. This is not necessarily the final price, pending official measurements, but paying the estimated price is what reserves your spot on the flight.

You may have noticed, however, that, depending on the aircraft you will be flying on, you may not get to choose exactly which seat you will sit in. This is because, unlike on other airlines, a defined layout of seats doesn't necessarily exist at this point. However, you do get to choose roughly where you want sit (which side, roughly how far along), with a notice that this is not guaranteed, but you will get a refund if you are far from where you wanted to sit. There is also an option for families and groups to sit together.

When you get to the airport, at the counter where you weigh and check your baggage, you also sit on a scale yourself, along with your carryons. (The scale is in the form of an airplane seat, and the carryon compartments are the same size as on the plane, so you can tell exactly how well they'll fit, in addition to their weight.) The seat also has side- to-side sliding arms to measure your body width, with your arms by your sides.

These measurements become the official ones by which you are charged. You then pay or get paid an adjustment, depending on which way the official measurements differ from your estimates. A penalty may also be assessed if your estimates are too far off.

All of this information is fed into a computer program that optimizes the layout of the passengers according to their sizes and preferences. Hopefully their estimates (which were used by the program for preliminary layout) were accurate enough that all passengers who reserved seats end up fitting; if not, those with the least accurate estimates may have to be bumped to later flights, or we may offer refunds or vouchers for passengers willing to decrease their space allocation or sit in a part of the airplane they don't like as much.

On some of our aircraft, the layout of the physical seats is fixed; the sizes of the individual seats have been computer-optimized to make layout of the passengers in them work as well as possible. If you end up being placed in a seat that is not a good fit for you, you may be eligible for a partial refund.

Our higher-end aircraft are equipped with self-adapting seat apparatuses. In these, the seat is a bench, and the armrests are mounted on stems coming through the gap between the seat and the backrest. This enables them to slide side-to-side on a rail hidden in the gap, individually motorized and controlled, to divide the bench into individual seats for occupants of different widths. The seatback has several segments (several more than the expected number of occupants), optimized in widths such that no matter how the widths of the passengers are configured (within reason), each passenger can recline their own segment of the seatback without interfering with their neighbors'.

The whole bench seat slides back and forth on another set of rails, which run the length of the cabin. This means that all passengers in the same row get the same amount of legroom; this is a slight compromise for mechanical practicality and also to make it easy for passengers to enter and exit their seats. It also simplifies the optimization algorithm.

The same compromise is made, for the most part, and mainly for the latter reason, on fixed-layout aircraft. However, some seats may be at somewhat unaligned positions lengthwise for better optimization of the legroom distribution and the legroom–width cross-distribution (though not by so much that it is difficult to get in and out of the rows).

The passenger layout optimization program can optimize the passenger layout for either type of aircraft:

For those with fixed layouts, it simply arranges the passengers into the available seats according to their sizes and preferences. It also records any difficulties encountered in doing this, to be fed back to the other program, the one that optimizes the physical seat layouts on fixed-layout aircraft, so it can improve the layouts in the future. (These layouts can be optimized differently on aircraft that fly different routes, as well.)

For those with adaptive seating, the program first groups passengers by where in the plane they would like to sit (both individually and for groups traveling together). Then it bins them within those areas by desired legroom. These groups of passengers in the same legroom bins are then placed in rows together, optimized so that they fit into the rows, obviously. (For example, one row could get three medium-width people, four thin people, two fat people, or one fat person and two thin people.)

If an adaptive seating-equipped aircraft has passengers whose average legroom requirement differs significantly from the norm, this may result in the airplane needing more or fewer rows. This is accommodated by the rows being removable from/addable to the aircraft with the help of a forklift-like machine that lifts them through the front right door of the airplane. We maintain a small stock of extra rows at each of our main airports for this purpose; they are loaded and unloaded according to the expected requirements of each flight the aircraft will fly before returning to a hub. At times they are also transported empty for stock redistribution.

This is why you may see some unused seats on your flight. Rest assured that your legroom will be minimally impacted by these unused seats, as we pack them tightly and distribute the saved legroom to those seats with passengers.

We hope you enjoy your flight on Notexactly Air.

notexactly, Aug 01 2016

Fat people rows in coach As mentioned in the idea [notexactly, Aug 01 2016]

Airbutts https://www.wired.c...even-more-horrible/
[whatrock, Aug 02 2016]

Sliding scale plane seats Sliding_20scale_20plane_20seats
Similar; terser. [bungston, Aug 03 2016]

Modular Passenger Aircraft Modular_20Passenger_20Aircraft
Annotation #20 [8th of 7, Aug 04 2016]

[link]






       Retaining the body specs might save booking time on future trips? Bun.
whatrock, Aug 02 2016
  

       Can fat people not simply be compressed into tubes by some kind of hydraulic corset and shipped like sausage rolls? This could be facilitated by being placed in airport lounges like those machines that wrap suitcases in clear film.
xenzag, Aug 02 2016
  

       When you check in, do you also have to estimate how much (in weight) you'll eat, drink and excrete while travelling?
hippo, Aug 03 2016
  

       Pushing 15 paragraphs and NOT from Vernon. What is this?
21 Quest, Aug 04 2016
  

       I sort of agree with adaptive seating to reflect body size, but not with the variable fare.   

       Yes, I know, why should you be paying for the extra space and fuel used by a really fat guy, or a really tall guy? But that is based partly on the inherent assumption that height and obesity are choices for which people should pay.   

       But height isn't a choice, and it's not clear that obesity is always a choice any more than, say, mental health is a choice. Society works with a bit of slack in the system: up to a point, we all cover for eachother in different ways. If you're short and therefore pay for more space than you need well, something else will balance out somewhere. If you're tall and therefore get the extra space you need without paying for it directly well, good luck to you.   

       When everybody decides that they will only pay for exactly what they use; and conversely will not accept any free extras; then society becomes a meaner and more miserable place. So, [-].
MaxwellBuchanan, Aug 04 2016
  

       Having spent 10 hours of near total misery being almost enveloped by a very fat passenger who spilled sweaty blubber over into my seating area on a plane, I think that anything has got to be better than the current one size fits all solution. One size does not fit all on a plane.
xenzag, Aug 04 2016
  

       Yes, that's what I said. However, I disagree with the policy of charging by height, width or depth.
MaxwellBuchanan, Aug 04 2016
  

       // One size does not fit all //   

       <Chief Brodie>   

       "You're gonna need a bigger boat."   

       </Chief Brodie>   

       // Can fat people not simply be compressed into tubes by some kind of hydraulic corset and shipped like sausage rolls? //   

       Prior Art <link>
8th of 7, Aug 04 2016
  

       //... But that is based partly on the inherent assumption that height and obesity are choices for which people should pay.//   

       Someone always seems to come up with this in this sort of debate, but it's not even true.
I mean, there are lots of things which a subset of people pay for through practical necessity. I purchase antihistamines, for example, and not because hayfever is a lifestyle choice. Life isn't fair; get over it.
  

       So the real fairness question is : should a private company be obligated to charge the same for all customers, regardless of variation in the cost of service provision?
Some of us, at least, are fortunate to live in a society which attempts to mitigate the worst of these variations. And where private companies are involved, for some things there are laws which require this 'one size fits all' approach - I seem to remember that a few years ago, car insurance companies were prohibited from discriminating on the basis of gender.
  

       However in this specific case as far as I know there isn't such a legal requirement. And to be honest I don't see why there should be.
To sum up - it may not be your fault, but if it costs more to accomodate you I don't see why the company shouldn't be allowed to charge more - if they should choose to do so.
Loris, Aug 04 2016
  

       The company should certainly be able to charge fares which cover their costs. The question is whether that charge should depend on your height or weight.   

       It costs quite a lot to accommodate a wheelchair- bound passenger on a flight (for example, additional security checks for the wheelchair; assistance before and during boarding and disembarkation). I myself do not use a wheelchair, but I am happy if my ticket costs and extra 50p to cover the additional costs of accommodating wheelchair-bound people.   

       In the end, logic and mathematics are on the side of charging people who are fat, tall or disabled more. However, it's a question of just being a decent human being, even if you're skinny, short and able-bodied.
MaxwellBuchanan, Aug 04 2016
  

       // However, it's a question of just being a decent human being, even if you're skinny, short and able-bodied.//   

       No it is not. What you are asking is for some people to arbitrarily subsidise others. There is significant controversy over the extent to which that is fair - and I think many positions are morally defensible.   

       If it's about decency, then people who encroach on their neigbours should have the option of buying wider seats. Many would probably like to have that option for the comfort gain in any case. Maybe some people don't fly because it isn't available.
I used to know a tall person who routinely paid for extra leg-room. As an optional add-on that doesn't seem to me to be unjustifiable.
  

       It certainly seems that the airlines have decided to charge a flat rate per passenger regardless of weight. I suspect that this is because some of those over the average would object to paying more and they fear they'd lose custom. Or the infrastructure required for the measurements would exceed the saving.   

       //I myself do not use a wheelchair, but I am happy if my ticket costs and extra 50p to cover the additional costs of accommodating wheelchair-bound people.//   

       Risky thing, that. You've implied a low limit to your generosity. What about an extra £50?
Loris, Aug 05 2016
  

       For me it's about not welcoming being squashed by a fat person spilling their sweaty flesh into my seating space. Being fat is about eating too much. You can argue all you want about this, but ultimately overeating = being fat. This means that in the vast majority of cases, fat people are fat because they eat too much. That's their choice, but with their choice comes the responsibility of not imposing it on others. If you choose to bring heavy luggage, you pay more to fly. What's the difference?
xenzag, Aug 05 2016
  

       //... fat people are fat because they eat too much.//   

       While this is true, it's not the whole story.   

       There's a lot of talk about "will-power" - but it doesn't actually exist.
It is now generally recognised that when a human starts something they like doing, they'll keep on going until the pain of doing it exceeds the pleasure they receive.
It is also clear that people enjoy eating to differing extents, and have different settings for feeling full.
  

       Couple this with the fact that humans in general find it difficult to lose weight, and it really isn't (at least entirely) their fault.
Loris, Aug 05 2016
  

       //it really isn't (at least entirely) their fault// So logically, external incentives are necessary?
pocmloc, Aug 05 2016
  

       //What you are asking is for some people to arbitrarily subsidise others.//   

       Yes, I am, to a modest degree, because I think that's one of the things that makes society decent and humane.   

       As it happens, I subsidise most other people through my taxes (since I am lucky enough to earn more than most). I also subsidise most people's healthcare, since I contribute toward the NHS but am relatively healthy myself.   

       If it happens, one day, that I am not earning; or that I have an expensive illness, then other people will be subsidising me. If it doesn't happen, then that's good luck all round. I won't begrudge the fact that I have, overall, put in a little more than I've taken out - I'm not that mean-spirited.   

       It is, of course, a question of degree, and it is true that one can set the parameters in various ways - from completely flat to completely slanted.   

       But, speaking for myself, I would sooner live in a world where I pay 50p more for my ticket, than in a world where some poor sod in a wheelchair (or some poor sod who is very fat) has to be charged an extra £20.   

       It's just my personal preference.
MaxwellBuchanan, Aug 05 2016
  

       Well said, [Max]!
the porpoise, Aug 05 2016
  

       Once you set down this path of bean counting, you'll find that the beans get smaller and more numerous.   

       There are thousands of scenarios where you could apply this logic and they all stink.   

       I'm a small mammal, but SMLXL shirts all cost the same? Not fair! They should charge by square inch of fabric and stitch length. Ergo, I save money and the fatties pay!   

       $4 for a latte? But I'm only going to take up a table for 5 minutes not like those old timers who sit around chatting for hours. Put coin-operated timers on the tables! Get it, old timer timers?   

       Hey, let's make subway fares increase with distance. Now all the low income folks priced out of living in the city centre have to pay more to get to work at their low paying jobs in the city centre. Yay! It's fair because they wore out the rails more.   

       So, yeah, I'm willing to tolerate inefficiency if it avoids the further financialization of life.
the porpoise, Aug 05 2016
  

       I think I should probably state my objection to what you say explicitly, Max, because I don't disagree with much of what you say.
I don't like the way you're maligning people who think differently from you.
  

       // However, it's a question of just being a decent human being, even if you're skinny, short and able-bodied.//   

       Yeah? Well try to imagine that people who disagree with you might try to be decent individuals, even if they're thin and short.   

       I think a major issue with "one size fits all" pricing is that it tends to go bad, for variations on the same reason:   

       When water is supplied at a flat rate, there's no incentive to conserve it. Since clean, fresh water costs money to supply, the cost to everyone is higher.   

       When car insurance companies were prevented from gender discrimination, women (who have fewer, less expensive crashes than young men) were charged more.
The interesting thing about this is that while young men on average saw reduced premiums, they didn't save as much as young women paid extra. (Confirming that to my satisfaction took some work, I can tell you.)
This is in spite of the rise of a) getting around the regs by asking about e.g. occupation and charging more in male-dominated fields, and b) significant growth in 'telematics', which measures how safely the individual is actually driving.
If car insurance was publically managed, maybe it would have been approximately a zero sum game (apart from the increased rate of car accidents caused by de-repressed boy racers). But if an insurance company under-prices a policy, it will gain more takers who cost it money.
  

       Splitting the bill at a restaurant is generally accepted when the meals cost approximately the same. Do you think your friends would be happy to do so if they'd each ordered just a main course and a drink, then you went for a 4 course banquet, plus a bottle of the most expensive wine on the menu?   

       Mens haircuts are massively cheaper than women's haircuts. Would you be happy paying the same? You won't get a better cut, of course - you'll be quick, so they'll book you for what's left of the slot after a protracted dying and perming session over-runs.   

       Give and take is certainly important in a functioning society. But that doesn't mean that the most redistributive function is the best.
Loris, Aug 05 2016
  

       // people who disagree with you might try to be decent individuals, even if they're thin and short. //   

       Impossible. By definition, if they disagree, they are sad, misguided fools, and immediately culling them is nothing more than an act of compassion.
8th of 7, Aug 05 2016
  

       'Short people got no reason to live' Randy Newman. 'Let me have men about me that are fat' Julius Caesar. Take your pick.
xenzag, Aug 05 2016
  

       //When water is supplied at a flat rate// Not quite the same thing, unless you charge different flat rates for different people.   

       //When car insurance companies were prevented from gender discrimination, women (who have fewer, less expensive crashes than young men) were charged more.// But the situation we have now is that, because car insurance is so compartmentalized, new drivers pay a fortune for their insurance - more than the cost of the car.   

       When I learned to drive, my first premium was fairly low, even though the risk was probably quite high - so I was benefitting from the (then) flat rate. In effect, older safer drivers were subsidising my insurance; when I got older, I was subsidising new drivers. I seemed fair, and meant that I could afford to drive when I was young. Now, with compartmentalized risk, my daughter could not afford her own insurance for several years after getting her licence.   

       //Mens haircuts are massively cheaper than women's haircuts. Would you be happy paying the same?// No, and just because I argue for flat rates in some circumstances doesn't mean I argue for them in all circumstances. However, I do feel that woman who wants a "simple" cut (as simple as a typical man's cut) should pay the same (lower) price as the man. Haircuts should cost according to the time and effort expended. Is that controversial?   

       //Splitting the bill at a restaurant...// The scenario you posit is, again, taking my argument to the extreme - this is a well-established but fallacious method of argument, and silly.   

       //Well try to imagine that people who disagree with you might try to be decent individuals// Fair point. By the same token, try to imagine that by saying I dislike the idea of making passengers pay for every pound of bodyweight, I am not arguing that everything, everywhere, in all quantities and for all people should cost the same.   

       I am simply saying that I would, personally, prefer to pay a little over the odds on my air fare rather than put other people through the indignity of paying per pound. If you ever find yourself overweight, or in a wheelchair, I will be very happy if my air fare includes a margin to cover the additional costs of carrying you. If you do not feel the same way reciprocally, that is fine - different people are allowed different opinions.
MaxwellBuchanan, Aug 05 2016
  

       Easiest is the carrier charges per pound/volume/nuisance-factor (child, football fan), and whatever government wants to can step up to the plate and refund them.
FlyingToaster, Aug 05 2016
  

       Then you (Max) should be able to choose the airline that charges everyone a bit more to provide extra wide seating on its planes in order to fly more fat people in comfort. This new airline solves all of the problems of flying fat people. Folk like Max will all voluntarily pay more to support their well meaning beliefs in equality of fares for fat travellers, in the exact same way as I pay more to eat cruelty free food.
xenzag, Aug 05 2016
  

       //... just because I argue for flat rates in some circumstances doesn't mean I argue for them in all circumstances. ... Haircuts should cost according to the time and effort expended. Is that controversial?//   

       I think it is ... inconsistent.   

       //... I dislike the idea of making passengers pay for every pound of bodyweight, I am not arguing that everything, everywhere, in all quantities and for all people should cost the same.//   

       I think what you object to is actually not the variable charge per se, but the (apparently public?) measuring process described in the idea. I refer you to my earlier comment about not disagreeing with you on that.
However, to repeat myself somewhat, given the aforementioned ability to get seats with extra leg-room, being able to purchase extra width seems entirely reasonable.
I must admit, though, that while I have some sympathy with xenzag's experience - I don't have any solution which doesn't suggest potentially embarrassing scenarios.
  

       //[The splitting the bill at a restaurant scenario] is, again, taking my argument to the extreme - this is a well-established but fallacious method of argument, and silly.//
My examples were all intended to cover different aspects of the concept. The bill-split is interesting because there's clearly a wide continuum of views (and it has to be said, bad feeling). I believe that effectively it comes down to most people being in favour of an even split where the cost difference is of little consequence, and not otherwise.
I think the primary cost driver of modern air travel is cabin space (and not weight). So a (say) 30% wider seat would cost 30% extra. Some people would be willing to pay that, some not - but if not, for perceived fairness I'd say it's very important that no passenger be intruded on significantly by another.
  

       Regarding your posited cost of a wheelchair service being minuscule - honestly I don't think the defrayed cost is as low as you suggest, but the companies involved are legally bound in many cases to provide it, and/or are again concerned about bad press. In any case, I see that as an irrelevance because it's both a service utilised by a low proportion of travelers, and unlikely to be gamed.
Loris, Aug 06 2016
  

       //Regarding your posited cost of a wheelchair service being minuscule - honestly I don't think the defrayed cost is as low as you suggest,//   

       Well, the average flight has maybe 1 wheelchair user, and I'm guessing it costs the airline an extra £50 to provide the assistance. Split across 100 pax, that comes to 50p.   

       But even if it were £10, I'd gladly pay it. In fact, I'd be happy to pay more than that (on a long-haul flight) to allow the airline to take all economy passengers at a flat rate. Maybe I'm a mug, or maybe I am too nice, but I just hate the idea of other people being made to feel like a burden because of what they are. So, personally, I would choose to fly on an airline with that policy, because it would make me happier, and I think it makes the world a very slightly nicer place to live. As I said, that's my personal choice.
MaxwellBuchanan, Aug 07 2016
  

       When you believe in something you can volunteer to pay extra in every situation. It would be no problem for an airline to offer every passenger the opportunity to pay extra to provide a few bigger seats for fat people to use. How many here on this site would gladly pay a supplementary charge in order to subsidise double seats for let's say ten obese passengers?
xenzag, Aug 07 2016
  

       I think you miss the point, [xen]. I do not want Ryanair to announce over the Tannoy "Hey, folks, this fat woman here (stand up, will you now, miss?) can't fit in a standard seat - anybody here willing to chip in a tenner to help her out?". I find such a concept utterly repugnant.   

       Nor do I want to hear "This is an announcement for passengers awaiting Flight FU2-IMOK to Hawaii. We have one Jew and one Vegetarian on board, and special catering for them will cost an additional $87 each. If anyone wishes to come forward to help subsidise this cost, please come to the desk." I just want to airline to handle it, nicely.   

       What the fuck ever happened to decent humanity? Am I the only gentleman left on earth, for fuck's sake?
MaxwellBuchanan, Aug 07 2016
  

       You offer to pay extra when you are booking your seat. Why would you not want to help your fellow man when you are so noble? According to your logic, people should be denied the opportunity to show generosity and kindness to those who need it most. This is the halfbakery after all......
xenzag, Aug 07 2016
  

       //Well, the average flight has maybe 1 wheelchair user, and I'm guessing it costs the airline an extra £50 to provide the assistance. Split across 100 pax, that comes to 50p.//   

       So we are agreed in any case that the wheelchair service has little significance.   

       //We have one Jew and one Vegetarian on board, and special catering for them will cost an additional $87 each. //   

       Interesting point. I'd say you're exaggerating the numbers here, but whatever. My guess is that actually special meals don't cost much more to prepare, if anything they might be cheaper. It probably does cost something to have the capacity to supply them.   

       //But even if it were £10, I'd gladly pay it. In fact, I'd be happy to pay more than that (on a long-haul flight) to allow the airline to take all economy passengers at a flat rate. Maybe I'm a mug, or maybe I am too nice, but I just hate the idea of other people being made to feel like a burden because of what they are. So, personally, I would choose to fly on an airline with that policy, because it would make me happier, and I think it makes the world a very slightly nicer place to live. As I said, that's my personal choice.//   

       But you see, here's the problem. I think it's widely considered to be the case that people in the western world are getting fatter on average. But this embiggening isn't spread evenly - we have some people getting very fat, and others staying skinny. Let us suppose that 50% of the population gets big, and would be best served by a large seat with a width equivalent to 2 current standard airline seats, while the other 50% can keep using the standard seat. I'm again making a simplifying assumption that cost is proportional to width. It's obvious that this isn't entirely the case, because there are going to be some flat-rate costs like airport duties; I don't know what the proportion is but it'll vary by flight I guess.   

       There are of course several options.
1) We could give everyone a large seat, whether they need it or not. A bit wasteful. The cost of flying doubles for everyone.
2) We could keep standard seating, and alternate seats so the skinnies get squished. And then charge everyone the same. This is objectionable to the skinnies.
We could change the seating mix to 50% regular and 50% large, and then:
3a) Charge everyone the same.
3b) Charge everyone by proportion of the cost.
4) other....
  

       Now what is the cost of a seat in the options in (3)? Well, each plane only carries 2/3 of the number of standard-sized seats, so in (3a) the tickets will cost 3/2 or 50% more for everyone. In (3b), the standard seat costs the same but the large seat is double the cost.
So on a long-haul flight of £1000 that's an extra £500 per-person subsidy of the skinnies to the fatties.
  

       So you see, it's *significant* subsidy. You can definitely argue about the proportion of fixed costs of the total - I totally concede that this is a simple model. But I've paid well over £1000 for tickets, years ago, and I don't think they're coming down in price. Also, the seating proportion is an issue with the above calculation. At the moment, here at least the morbidly obese arn't a high proportion of the population - so you can still argue that it's shared out over more customers. But that can change - as it is doing.   

       // I do not want Ryanair to announce over the Tannoy ...//   

       straw man. Niiice.   

       So you said earlier that you'd be happy to have a seating mix, but not to charge extra for bigger seats. Clearly, what you can't do is charge the same for big seats as regular, and allow people to self-select their seats. Even skinnies would prefer bigger seats, given the option. So what you've done is require some sort of measurement or judgement-call be made, which is obviously going to lead to embarrassment in some cases.
So one solution is to provide it as a chargable extra, let people decide for themselves how much space they'd like to pay for, and let market forces sort it out. Noone needs to be weighed, noone gets refused a large seat because they look too thin to the clark.
Occasionally, someone fat might decide they can get by with a smaller seat, and get reviled on by their neighbour. But that happens already.
Loris, Aug 08 2016
  

       Well, whatever.
MaxwellBuchanan, Aug 08 2016
  
      
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