Stupid Airline Innovations and the Media That Loves Them

Over the past few years, I’ve watched a gullible media devour some of the most ridiculous concepts patented by aircraft manufacturers. Tech-hungry writers have checked their credulity at the door and wibbled about ideas with only the smallest, puniest chance of ever coming to fruition.

Let’s review the most-ridiculous notions I’ve seen in relatively recent history.

First up, I have an Airbus patent that would dock loaded detachable cabins to waiting aircraft. I’m not even certain how this solves a single problem because passengers will still have to file down the aisles to their seats (if you’re about to suggest that boarding front and rear makes it faster … well, we can already board from front and rear; it’s just that airports choose not to). I can’t help wonder: where the emergency exits are in the patent sketch; whether airports will totally overhaul their infrastructure; whether Boeing will play ball and what impact on weight; exactly how the added weight for the mechanisms to lock the cabin to the rest of the plane would affect weight, performance and safety.

This drawing looks like it got whipped up by an intern during orientation. You’ll never see this concept fly.

Next, let’s talk about seating.

People hate airlines. I know, I know. So news outlets are quick to screech about anything that looks like a further infringement on comfort. When Airbus filed this awful patent for some seating straight out of the Spanish Inquisition, writers couldn’t wait to how. And even worse was the petri dish of stupidity in the comment sections of every article about it: “This is why I never fly anymore” was a common refrain.

This may have given the team at Ryanair a “why didn’t we think of that?” moment, but rest assured that this seating concept will never, ever find its way aboard a revenue aircraft.

And the media also hopped aboard this “ride ’em, cowboy” saddle seat concept, also from Airbus.

I know it seems like I’m picking on Airbus here, but I searched to see if the media had covered similar goofy patents filed by Boeing. That search came up blank on the airliner side, but there a few items on the defense side. That’s beyond the scope of my thoughts here, though. Feel free to let me know if you find anything.

I do have to wonder what sort of game Airbus — or any other airframer — is playing with these patents. Misdirection? Snuffling for media coverage? Keeping low-level employees busy? Or just letting people go nuts to see what ideas they hatch that might actually be workable — and giving the patent attorneys something to do?

And I admit they’re kind of fun to read about. The problem is that the media treats them as far more workable than they are. They don’t ask any serious questions, and every article reads like a re-hashed press release. Nobody seems to ask how these patents affect an airframer’s bottom line, or anything about the selection process: Seriously, what is the threshold for “this is crap” and “let’s patent it”? The real conclusion is that coverage of these “innovations” reflects more on a media with eroding quality standards that it does on the aviation industry.

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