A new airplane seat concept that allows wheelchair users to stay in their own chair throughout a flight was revealed last week by Delta Airlines, a move welcomed as a “huge step” by potential customers.
“Unbelievably excited,” is how power wheelchair user and disability travel blogger, Cory Lee, described his reaction after a working prototype of the design was demonstrated by Delta Flight Products (DFP) at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, Germany, a symposium spotlighting airplane cabin innovations. Many power wheelchair users now avoid traveling by plane because of the potential risk of costly damage to their wheelchairs, which often renders them useless.
Though still only a prototype, the design is already generating significant buzz among wheelchair users. It’s hoped that the concept could enter commercial use within 18 months if it passes testing. DFP has already begun informal discussions with the US Federal Aviation Administration.
DFP’s concept seamlessly converts to and from a traditional airplane seat. The built-in seat folds up to allow a wheelchair to be docked into place. The seat would be installed into pre-existing aircraft seat track systems, so would not involve any structural change to the airplane.
When the seat’s in wheelchair mode, flyers are still able to use the tray table – the center console that houses the tray table rises to the appropriate height when the seat conversion takes place. The conversion process, as seen in the video, is swift and smooth, taking around 90 seconds.
What’s perhaps most striking at first look is that the seat maintains the same aesthetic whether it’s in its traditional airplane seat mode, or in its wheelchair conversion. DFP brought in a disability focus group to give their feedback on every aspect of the design.