I’m sitting on an airplane, beginning a long week of business travel across the United States. Over the next month, I’ll log over 13,000 air miles, spending time in four different countries on two continents. And rather than excitement at my great fortune to be able to travel such distances and visit interesting people and places along the way, I instead feel a sense of impending dread.
Why? Ergonomics, of course. The ergonomics of airplane seats, or the lack thereof, to be exact.
It could be worse, I tell myself. I’m sitting next to Chris Watts, a 6 foot, 6 inch basketball player for Carroll College, in Helena, Montana, U.S.A. He’s definitely in a worse position than I am. He had to change seats because his legs are too long to fit in the seat he was originally assigned. Sitting next to each other now, thankfully at a “bulkhead” that affords us a few extra inches of leg room, we squirm awkwardly as we position ourselves, each of us trying to be considerate of the other’s space. Chris leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees while I enjoy a moment of comfort. I regret that I can’t reciprocate his generosity, as my laptop precludes me from doing the same.
Measuring in at 5 feet 8 inches, which is about 50th percentile when combining male and female heights, I’m not a tall person by current American standards. I do, however, have wide shoulders (about 95th percentile). That is, like many people, my height is not necessarily a good predictor of my other body dimensions. I might be 50th percentile in height, but that doesn’t mean I’m 50th percentile in shoulder width.
So, for the next 150 minutes, Chris and I will sit uncomfortably, jockeying for position, muscles tense, joints tight, and nerves on edge. No offense intended, Chris, but on my next flight I hope I won’t see another person your size sit next to me. And I’m sure whoever ends up next to me next time will feel the same about me, because it hardly matters what size you are – the airplane seats are likely to be too close for comfort.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Neither of us will be too much worse for this temporary wear. It’s unlikely that either of us will develop a cumulative trauma disorder from this one experience. But, Chris has a big playoff game tomorrow, and I have an important presentation, then more miles to fly. Will he be in his best form, or will he have a kink in his back? Neither of us will file a workers’ compensation claim, and both of us will forget this episode in due time. But both of us, I can assure you, will curse the airline, [name of airline omitted], wondering why they have so blatantly mismatched our bodies with this technology. And that’s just one aspect of the bottom-line interest businesses must recognize in ergonomics.
Ergonomics is good business, and good businesses know that.
Dr. Peter Budnick, CPE
President and CEO