Airlines target lighter, thinner seats to save

•Reclining made easy. More airlines have been buying "fixed-shell" seats for business class. They let passengers recline without the seat back leaning back. Cathay Pacific was one of the first carriers to introduce them in the economy cabin when it installed seats made by B/E Aerospace.

The fixed-shell seats have cushions affixed within the chair's "shell" frame so they move forward and downward when passengers recline. The seat back stays stationary. "Every inch of recline comes at the expense of knee room," Brauer says.

Some manufacturers have seats with hinges higher on the seat. When passengers recline, the back moves backward, while the lumbar portion of the seat stays stationary. That lets passengers behind retain their knee space. Air Canada, Frontier and Continental have these seats, says Tom Plant, vice president of the seating products group at B/E Aerospace.

•Cushion technology. The industry has made strides in cushion and fabric technology that target chronic issues common to frequent fliers: sore buttocks and thighs.

The technology lets seatmakers pack in more foam density to produce thin cushions, says Mark Carlin of Franklin Products, a cushion supplier to airlines. But that also can lead to loss of comfort. Seatmakers have "sophisticated contouring" to make up for the loss, he says.

•Resting your head. Airlines are increasingly installing adjustable headrests, used for leaning back more ergonomically. But many passengers neglect to use them, Plant says.

Some carriers have added wings or flaps so that passengers can sleep without tilting their heads. "I flew Frontier (recently) and enjoyed the new headrest wings," says Philip Novac, a sales manager in the Cleveland area. "I do believe they help ease neck stress."

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