If you thought airlines could find no new ways to squeeze more passengers into each plane, you are underestimating the resolve of the airline industry.
At this month's Aircraft Interior Expo in Hamburg, Germany, many of the 500 exhibitors were promoting new ideas to cut down on weight — thus saving airlines fuel — and innovative layouts to fit more seats per cabin.
Among the concepts offered at the expo was a set of seats that put passengers face to face, seats that are installed in a staggered, diagonal layout and redesigning lavatories to wedge in a few extra passengers in the back of the cabin. One company has even introduced a new lightweight lapbelt.
Airlines may eventually pack so many seats per cabin that carriers will reach the maximum passenger totals allowed by federal regulators. But U.S. carriers have not reached that point yet.
"There is no question that densification — adding more seats to each aircraft — is an ongoing trend and there is no sign of it letting up anytime soon," said Seth Kaplan, managing partner at the trade publication Airline Weekly.
One of the world's largest airline interior manufacturers, France-based Zodiac Aerospace, unveiled a set of three seats with one passenger facing forward, one facing backward and another facing forward. The seat bottoms also flip up, like the seats at a ball park, to let passengers board and exit faster.
It's a concept strictly for short-haul flights. The response from airlines at the expo? "Very interested," said Pierre-Antony Vastra, an executive vice president at Zodiac.
The drawbacks: No armrests and the seat bottom cushions are pretty thin.
Another aircraft interior manufacturer, Britain's Thompson Aero Seating, was promoting an idea called the "cozy suite." It's an idea that installs economy seats at an angle, with one slightly behind and to the left of the other, to maximize cabin space. The Cozy Suite also has tilt-up seat bottoms.
But the biggest buzz at the expo was over a small French company called Expliseat, which has developed a seat made of lightweight titanium and composite materials. It weighs about 8.8 pounds, compared with newer economy seats that weigh about 24 pounds.
The company promises to save airlines up to $500,000 a year in fuel costs for the average Airbus 320 or Boeing 737 planes. On April 1, the seat won approval by the European Aviation Safety Agency for use on European aircraft.