Upcoming Exhibition | Remain Seated Airliner Passenger Chairs

Remain Seated Airliner Passenger Chairs

International Terminal

Aviation Museum & Library, Departures – Level 3
March 2023 - October 2023

Remain Seated
Airliner Passenger Chairs

Of all the equipment in a commercial airliner, the passenger seat—where one spends almost an entire flight—is most closely associated with the passenger air-travel experience. Early airline seating was intended for cramped quarters, and scaled-down chairs were constructed of lightweight, inexpensive materials such as wicker, with minimal padding. As aeronautics progressed in the 1930s and 40s, and larger, more-economical airliners with greater range were introduced, such as the Douglas DC-3 in 1936, airlines focused more on passenger comfort. With increased flight times, passengers could expect to spend many hours in the cabin seated. Manufacturers and carriers began to closely study the factors related to cabin contentment as they carefully considered the design of their passenger chairs. Chairs, as well as berthing accommodations, became a major selling point for airlines competing with each other to attract customers with the most comfortable accommodations. During the postwar era, major airlines brought in state-of-the-art seating innovations as they launched new, long-range propliners. With the introduction of long-range turbojet airliners in the late 1950s, the airlines upgraded their seats for extended-duration comfort while bringing quieter, vibration-free flight to the airliner-cabin. 

Following the introduction of the short-to-midrange Boeing 727 in 1964, and the Boeing 737 and Douglas DC-9 shortly after, many airlines highlighted their fast, reliable, and economical service to more locations with less emphasis on passenger comfort, particularly with coach service. With the launch of widebody airliners in the 1970s, carriers delivered long-haul, multi-class luxury with an inspired vigor, offering spacious cabins reminiscent of living rooms and plush, multifunctional seats evocative of easy chairs. This exhibition chronicles airline passenger seating from its modest wicker origins, through the era of the propliner when comfort emerged as an important selling point, to the jet age when chairs and passenger seating became the subject of intensive study and design resulting in the sophisticated, high-tech, multi-functional sitting machines of today. Associated airline flight attendant uniforms are also presented, along with photographs documenting passenger seating and cabin service.  

Douglas DC-3 day-use seating illustration  late 1930s
Douglas DC-3 Day Plane and DST Sky Sleeper promotional sales booklet
paper, ink
SFO Museum
Gift of Bill Hough