Prototype airline seat would make the skies friendlier to passengers in wheelchairs

A convertible seat that allows for passengers' own wheelchairs could soon come to Delta flights.
Air 4 All prototype wheelchair seat in airplane cabin
The convertible seat can accommodate passengers' wheelchairs without changing cabin configurations. PriestmanGoode

A UK-based design consortium has unveiled a promising new prototype that could dramatically ease flight travel for wheelchaired passengers with mobility restrictions. At this week’s Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany, a design and accessibility rights collaborative called Air 4 All showcased its patented alternative airliner seat which can easily convert as needed to fit travelers’ personal wheelchairs.

According to the US Department of Transportation, airline company personnel mishandled or damaged nearly 11,400 travelers’ wheelchairs in 2022 alone. As Insider also noted earlier this month, many of these devices can cost thousands of dollars, and are often  specifically tailored to individual owners. Meanwhile, disabled airline passengers often must transfer multiple times across wheelchairs and other various transportation methods from arrival, to airport terminal, to plane seating.

[Related: How different wheelchair designs can help Paralympians excel.]

Air 4 All’s prototype, however, could vastly simplify this process by allowing many to use their same wheelchair throughout the majority of their travels, including boarding and sitting within a plane. “An innovation like this in air travel provides those with reduced mobility a safe and comfortable way for them to travel and remain in their own power wheelchair,” Chris Wood, an Air 4 All partner and founder of the Flying Disabled consultancy group, said in a statement.

The new patented prototype seat features multiple pieces which are able to convert into a wheelchair-accessible configuration, such as a seat that can flip up and a removable back cushion. From there, a wheelchair can easily be backed into the open space and attached in place. What’s more, the convertible seat doesn’t sacrifice standard plane amenities, such as a headrest, console tray tables, or cocktail tables. Additionally, anyone can sit in the space regardless of accessibility needs, and each seat can be installed into planes without changing existing cabin configurations.

[Related: The FAA just made East Coast flight routes shorter.]

Following its exhibition this week, Air 4 All’s new seat is scheduled to head for final design and validation. Once certified, the consortium plans to begin testing and certifications processes, after which passengers could soon see the seats arriving on Delta planes.

Of course, actually flying within the current airline ecosystem is another situation entirely. Despite the recent launch of 169 new flight routes along the East Coast, the airline industry has faced serious criticism for outdated technology and procedures—most notably the massive wave of cancellations that hit Southwest travelers over the 2022 holiday season. Still, the pending installation of wheelchair accessible seating is a welcome addition to any plane… whether or not it takes off on time.