A Recaro employee demonstrates the leg space in the Recaro X-Tend Seat on the AIX show floor.

Flip-up exit mini-seat enables density, but at what cost?

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In their continuing quest for aircraft densification, airlines, airframers and seatmakers have long eyed the common EASA and FAA regulation specifying a passageway between the front of an exit row seat pan and the seat ahead. On six-abreast narrowbody aircraft, this must be 13 inches — but what if the seat pan flipped down?

That’s the question that Recaro Aircraft seating is asking with its X-Tend Seat for the exit row, created as what the German seatmaker says is a “design collaboration with Airbus”, enabling an exit row to be pitched like a regular row. Recaro says that X-Tend will increase the passenger capacity of an A320 from 190 to 194 seats.

The regulations concerned — EASA CS 25.813 (c) (2) (i) and the corresponding US FAA laws — require a 13-inch or 33-cm passageway where three seats are installed next to a type III or IV exit, such as an Airbus A320. This space, the regulations state, “must be measured with adjacent seats adjusted to their most adverse positions”.

In essence, Recaro is changing that “most adverse position” of the seat within the exit row, cutting the seat pan in two and having the passenger flip the forward part of it upwards when seated.

A close up of the X-Tend Seat by Recaro. The seat is slimline and black with a flip-up portion of the seat bottom.

X-Tend cuts away part of the seat pan to maintain 13-inch egress. Image: John Walton

Before passengers sit down, the default resting mode of the X-Tend Seat has all the visual appeal and passenger comfort of the kind of perch that some cities install in bus shelters to dissuade unhoused people from sitting on them. 

Once seated, the passenger pulls upwards on the rest of their seat pan, which swings up with a kind of ratcheting click to form the rest of the seat pan.

The regulatory crux to the mechanism, though, is in a delayed release back to the default resting mode, which activates approximately a second after the passenger stands up and the pressure is released. Recaro imagines that regulators will be content with this, but those regulators will want to be assured that the mechanism will survive a crash landing and this is an open question.

That regulatory question will doubtless receive substantial scrutiny if Recaro and Airbus choose to certify this seat. But what of passenger comfort in the extended, deployed mode?

At the Aircraft Interiors Expo, two Runway Girl Network journalists tried out the X-Tend Seat and found it very unsatisfactory indeed, with very poor comfort levels largely driven by the fact that the extended part of the seat pan — in its full extension — reached only some two inches below the rest of the seat pan. 

Recaro X-Tend as demonstrated and tested by a guest at the AIX show.

In real-world testing, X-Tend was uncomfortable and unpersuasive. Image: John Walton

(We note that the glossy renders issued since by Recaro show a fully level surface between the swinging and static elements seat pan, but this was very much not the case on the stand at AIX.)

Recaro SL3710 X-Tend economy class seat for Airbus in all black.

Recaro shows X-Tend’s seat surface fully level throughout. Image: Recaro

This gap means that the passenger’s legs are simply not supported, and was immediately uncomfortable within moments on the stand, let alone the “short and mid-range economy cabin configurations” that Recaro is targeting with the seat. The idea of sitting for several hours on this seat is deeply unattractive, and RGN journalists were not the only ones to compare X-Tend with AvioInteriors’ infamous SkyRider saddle seats.

A close up of a white lever that says "pull" on the X-Tend Seat.

One fundamental problem with X-Tend as shown at AIX is that the seat pan is at two separate levels. Image: John Walton

It’s genuinely surprising that Recaro would demonstrate at AIX a seat that is so visibly and functionally different to the renderings it would later issue.


For X-Tend to be workable in any acceptable way, the regulators will need to be persuaded of the reliability of the pan-drop mechanism and that the shorter pitch would not negatively impact emergency egress, and Recaro will need to create a mechanism that does indeed lift the swinging part to the full height of the static part of the seat pan.

If both of those hurdles can be cleared, then the practical question of the seat can be addressed. X-Tend will add two percent extra seating to the 190-seater A320, at the cost of an adequate legroom option for passengers for whom the ultra-tight seating on these aircraft is unsuitable. (It should be noted that that option is already open only to a subset of those passengers, given that there are language, physical ability, maximum size and other restrictions for passengers to have the option of exit row seats.) 

Given that average passenger height continues to grow, and that many airlines secure hefty pricing premiums for exit-row seats, will this be a cost too far?

A Recaro employee demonstrates the leg space in the Recaro X-Tend seat on the AIX show floor.

Even before X-Tend, there are already questions as to how adequately passenger’s legs (here the Recaro employee demonstrator) are supported in modern seats. Image: John Walton

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Featured image credited to Recaro