Delta Unveils Wheelchair-Friendly Airline Seating Prototype

A new wheelchair-friendly airline seating concept has recently been unveiled at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, Germany, which aims to accommodate passengers’ wheelchairs directly into existing aircraft seating. Potential users and disability campaigners have praised the design prototype as a positive step forward for an industry that continues to be criticised for not doing enough to improve accessibility.

New Wheelchair-Friendly Airplane Seat
DFP and Air4All’s seating prototype aims to provide passengers with greater autonomy and comfort © PriestmanGoode

Delta Air Lines’ Exciting New Wheelchair-Friendly Airline Seating

An exciting new seat design prototype was recently unveiled by Delta Airlines’ subsidiary Delta Flight Products (DFP) at the annual Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, Germany, which will allow wheelchair users to stay in their own wheelchairs throughout their flight.

DFP’s innovative working prototype enables a conventional airplane seat to be folded up to allow a wheelchair to be slotted into place. The fold-up design will mirror the interchangeable seating already used on domestic public transport, such as buses and trains. To create the necessary space, cushions from the original seat are removed and stored under the neighbouring seat. The armrests are lifted, and the seat’s base is pulled upwards. Importantly, passengers will still be able to access the tray table and headrest.

The company aims to make the seat conversion process seamless by installing the new seats onto airplanes’ existing seat track systems. Moreover, the seat can be used in both the standard format and to allow wheelchair access when required.

New Wheelchair-Friendly Airplane Seat
The recently unveiled seating design can be used interchangeably as and when required © PriestmanGoode

A Partnership For Good

The new seat design results from a partnership between DFP and Air4All, a UK-based consortium that aims to help passengers with reduced mobility and hidden disabilities by developing accessible aircraft seating. The consortium comprises the aviation design company PriestmanGoode, the disability advocacy group Flying Disabled, the aerospace company SWS Certification and the wheelchair design company Sunrise Medical.

Whilst the seat is still in the prototype stage of development, it is hoped that once it passes testing, achieves certification and is adopted by airlines, the innovative design will enter commercial use within the next 18 months.

Christopher Wood MBE, founder of Flying Disabled, has said that interest in the product has already been expressed by major airlines and manufacturers, with Delta Airlines indicating that it will keep a keen eye on developments made by its subsidiary over the coming months.

Disabled seating at airport
Disabled passengers sadly still face numerous obstacles in their travel journey © dominiccampbell

Improving Accessibility In Air Travel

Despite advances made in recent years, disabled passengers still face many challenges when travelling, including suffering from discomfort during flights and whilst boarding and disembarking, having to navigate narrow aisles on planes and facing difficulty in communicating with airline staff who do not always have the correct training or appropriate manner when assisting passengers with additional needs.

Leading bodies and organisations have also highlighted the issues disabled passengers face in their travel journey. The UK Civil Aviation Authority, for example, released its Interim Airport Accessibility Report in late 2022, noting the failure of several major UK airports to provide timely assistance to disabled passengers and, in some cases, putting them at risk of missing connecting flights.

In addition to the aforementioned challenges, wheelchair users are also forced to contend with the added stress and anxiety that their wheelchairs could be damaged in the hold or during the loading/unloading process. Unfortunately, with regard to providing accessible seating space for wheelchair users, many airlines have been so far resistant to making such changes over claims that it would affect their total seat count and thus their profitability. Besides the fundamental countenance of proving basic accessibility to disabled passengers, which is not a privilege but a right, the new seating design presented above completely removes this argument.

Whilst there is still a long way to go in terms of full and proper accessibility for passengers with disabilities and those with reduced mobility, DFP and Air4All’s partnership is a promising step forward in helping passengers maintain their independence and dignity and helping to give those with disabilities more confidence to travel.

What do you think of DFP’s new wheelchair-friendly seat design? What other ways do you think airlines can improve accessibility for passengers? Let us know in the comments!

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Rachel Dunster
Rachel Dunster
Aviation Reporter