Take a Seat!

The great philosopher Arthur Fonzarelli once said “sit on it,” and it seems a worthy introduction to a column on seats.

The bus industry isn’t too different than airlines when it comes to seating. We occasionally resort to the fertilizer philosophy: 10 pounds of bovine organic stuff crammed into a five pound bag.

We try to strike a balance between comfort and economics and have made extra legroom a luxury we hope to charge a bit extra for.

Once, long ago, seat builders did a few things that increased legroom, such as shaping the cushions and backs to accommodate 90 percentile tushes. Ninety percent of customers got to slide deeper into the seat, which left more room for their legs. Seat backs could be shaped to either add to forward visibility or increase privacy. Doing this often allowed an extra row without sacrificing comfort (unless you had a 10 percent tush).

The advent of seatbelts has changed things, and seat manufacturers have had to adjust in ways that provide mixed blessings.

Let’s back into this (pun intended). Coach builders have two choices when it comes to seating. They can build their own or purchase them from a vendor. Each option has unique merits.

Building their own offers control of scheduling. There’s a special time in the gestation of a bus when installing seats is most efficient. If a vendor delivers late, things can get ugly. Conversely manufacturers don’t want tons of seats sitting eating up space, capital and sometimes getting damaged. Building their own mitigates those risks.

In addition, there are serious engineering concerns regarding bus weight and seat rail strength. Both have become increasingly important. Building in house streamlines engineering communication, and service for any problems comes through the bus builder’s support staff.

Outside suppliers specializing in seats may be better able to cope with the myriad of special challenges they present. Keeping weight down (and strength up) is critical because modern coaches are inching closer to maximum allowable weight.

Bus builders also want seating that reaches a reasonable compromise between capacity and comfort while still providing the strength to handle seatbelts. Many have reached the conclusion that it best serves their customers to offer seats built by specialists. The seat manufacturers then provide support to operators.

Service is more critical than ever. In ye olden days you might get by with a broken seat, but seatbelts (and lawyers) create a serious dilemma. You can’t risk allowing a customer to occupy a defective seat, and you want to be certain that every belt works before dispatching a coach. Don’t book 56 passengers if you’ve only got 54 good seats.

If you’re buying a used coach, the mechanical condition of its seats has become a major consideration.

Choosing seats really boils down to a couple of considerations. Support is critical. Whether built by the bus manufacturer or a vendor, you need to be assured you can readily get parts and expertise. You don’t want a $600,000 coach out of service because of a $2 doohickey. The best seat is the one with the best support (another pun).

While not show stoppers, options like cup holders, magazine nets and foot rests also need to be maintained.

The other consideration is comfort. Plush seats seem comfy, but a firm well-shaped one is far better for long trips, less tiring because it holds passengers tushes in place without using many muscles.

If possible, take a trip riding in the kind of seat you’re considering and see if it’s comfortable on the long haul. Take the Fonz’s advice and “sit on it.”

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