Designing comfortable passenger seats

The aim of this PhD research has been to provide new knowledge on how to design comfortable passenger seats and to provide recommendations for design and research. The focus of the experiments performed in this PhD research has been on the influence of passengers’ body sizes, the activities they perform, and the properties of the seat, on the comfort and discomfort perception of passengers. 

For example, one of the projects investigated what the ideal seat contour for aircraft seats would look like based on the human body contour. Therefore, a number of body contours have been collected by using 3D scanning. Instead of scanning the passengers, the imprint left by the passengers in a special mattress was scanned. The contours were aligned and combined into a largest, outer contour and a smallest, inner contour. This outer contour can be used to design a hard shell out of a composite material, whereas the difference between the outer and inner contour can be filled up by a special foam to provide support for small passengers. Using this technique, seat manufacturers will be able to provide a better fit to the human body, while at the same time reducing weight by applying new materials. Further research is needed to build prototype seats and to evaluate the comfort and discomfort and possible improvements on the contour shape. 

The results from this and other projects have been translated into a practical flowchart on how to design comfortable passenger seats on the basis of context, human and seat characteristics.

Model and analysis

Imprint of body contour in the mattress
Scanned 3D surface


Alignment of different scans
Combined contour with largest outside contour (dark) and smallest inside contour (light)


  • Hiemstra-van Mastrigt, S., 2015. Comfortable passenger seats: Recommendations for design and research. PhD thesis, Technische Universiteit Delft. (expected July 2015)


  • Suzanne Hiemstra-van Mastrigt


  • TNO
  • B/E Aerospace
  • BMW AG
  • SNCF
  • AMES Europe