When it comes to the re-imagining of economy seating, fresh ideas often seem thin on the ground. While those in first and business are regularly treated to overhauled cabins, complete with booths, pods and even private rooms, those in standard class are generally faced with the same old configurations.
This may soon change as Thomson Airways is hoping to introduce dedicated family booths, seating up to six people either side of a table — a move that would coincide with the creation of child-free areas elsewhere on the plane. Three members of the group would be facing backwards, something common on trains but not seen on today’s commercial aircraft.
However, there’s plenty of precedent throughout aviation history. In the 1930s, the Imperial Airways Air Boat had rail-style booth seating; as late as the 1970s, British European Airways flew Trident jets with forward and rear-facing seats; and British Airways currently has backward-facing window seats in its Club World cabin. What’s more, many believe rear-facing seats to be safer, as they absorb more of the impact in the event of a crash.
Thomson plans to launch the booths on its 47 new Boeing 737 MAX jets, due for delivery from 2018. But while the airline is still exploring logistics, the fact it felt confident enough to float its plan before journalists last autumn suggests this innovation might actually see the light of day.
Published in the March 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)