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Published: Friday, 9/17/2010

Saddlelike seat aims to squeeze in more fliers


NEW YORK - An Italian company is about to take the wraps off a space-saving seat for commercial aircraft that promises a flying experience similar to riding a horse.

It's a prospect that should thrill some discount airlines such as Ireland's Ryanair, which last year made headlines when it said it would consider "stools" or a "perch" instead of traditional seats to pack more travelers onto aircraft and, in the process, lower their fares.

Aviointeriors is stepping in to fill that potential demand with SkyRider, a seat that's more like a saddle with armrests than the customary flat-cushion seating.

The SkyRider seats are smaller and sit a little higher, which would allow airlines to decrease the distance between seat rows.

On a short-haul flight, the space between rows in economy seating is at a minimum 28 inches, according to data provided by SeatGuru.com. The SkyRider could cut that down to 23 inches.

It will also mean, according to the company, a whole new class of flying - something less than economy class, but still a significant step up from riding with the luggage.

"Even with a dual or three-class seating arrangement, [SkyRider] will allow maximum certified passenger capacity of the aircraft," the company said in a statement.

Ryanair conducted a poll last year that showed that nearly half of its customers, typically budget travelers, happily would stand up for the duration of a one-hour flight if it meant cheaper fares. The company figures standing-room-only flying would pack in 30 percent more passengers while slashing costs by 20 percent.

When such seating would be available in the United States is difficult to pinpoint. The Federal Aviation Administration does not require passengers to be seated during flight, just that they each occupy a "berth" with safety belts.

As long as the SkyRider meets all applicable regulations, possibly with some additional reinforcements, it could be used by U.S. airlines, according to FAA spokesman Les Dorr.

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