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Airplane Seats

In the Wake of a Pandemic

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Suppose a line of airplane passengers waits to board a flight. One passenger, heading across country to visit family, lost her grandmother to Covid-19 and is anxious about the obvious health risks. Another passenger with a broken leg is dreading the added discomfort of sitting in close quarters for several hours with a foot brace. And a third passenger, relieved that air travel has opened again to let him visit business associates in South Korea, hopes no one notices the cough that’s been tickling his throat since last night.


The flight attendant checks in each passenger. Remaining six feet apart, they make their way through the boarding tube and find an entirely new layout of seating. No longer do rows of seats sit tightly together. Instead, individual seats are oriented at an angle and partitioned in their own cubicle, with transparent walls that reach up their corresponding ceilings, such as the bottom of the row above. Short staircases along the line lead to a second row of seating set above the first.


Our three passengers wander down the line, looking for their seating. One pulls her phone from her bag before storing the rest in a compartment, watching other passengers take seats above her. Our passenger with the foot brace settles into his seat with surprising ease, taking a seat and then turning into his cubicle.


With familiar efficiency, the plane takes off, and passengers settle in for a long flight. Attendants in masks and gloves serve refreshments to passengers just as before. Those who travel in pairs talk amongst themselves in the outer single-level seats, relieved in the knowledge they won’t disturb other passengers.


Our first passenger puts in earbuds and listens to music as she thumbs through photos of her departed grandmother relaxing despite herself. Even with his foot brace, our second passenger finds surprising room and comfort as he leans back a full 45-degrees. Our businessman can no longer hide his cough, but in his own private seat, no one is bothered.

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