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No More Stretching Out on Empty Flights?

This month, some newspapers and magazines published stories that proclaimed things like, "Lie-Flat Seats are Coming to Economy Class."  

It sounds like a dream come true, right? After years of ignoring Economy—even intentionally making it more uncomfortable so passengers feel the need to pay to upgrade—the airlines are throwing less wealthy travelers a bone!

Not so fast. If you take a look at the video released by the seats' designer last year, you'll see the "lie-flat" seat concept comes at a cost: You have to lie across several seats to make it work.

This "new" version of lie-flat seats is really the same thing as lying on an empty row of seats, except you get more width by detatching the seats' headrests and filling the gap where your legs went when you were miserably seated.

Technically, you can already do this without a new invention. You can already turn a row of four empty seats into your personal lie-flat cot—that is, if there were ever such a thing as an empty flight, you could.

Condé Nast Traveler reports that you can already find a version of these new seats on Air New Zealand’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner and 777 wide body jets, where using one costs about half as much as it costs to upgrade to Premium Economy—but again, it's not really doing Economy passengers a favor if it actually costs more than Economy.  

It could also spell bad news for passengers lucky enough to find themselves on half-empty flights. Right now, those people can simply stretch out into empty seats, but if this design becomes more popular among airlines (South African Airways and AirAsia X are getting them, too) and enabling a prone position becomes a new way to make money on empty flights, then flight attendants could feasibly wake you up and demand a credit card if you're anything but vertical.

What we really need isn't another way for airlines to upsell. We need more humane standard designs for Economy seats. We need a comfortable Economy seat, period.