(CBS News) - Obese airline passengers don't have it easy, but one aircraft manufacturer has created a new design that may make flying more comfortable.
Airbus, one of the top aircraft manufacturers, has designed a bench geared to fit two overweight passengers, according to a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The key to providing a spacious haven is the bench's customizable format, which allows for seat belts to be attached at different points to fit either larger or smaller passengers.
The bench isn't only geared toward obese passengers. Airbus notes that the seat can be configured to seat people with mobility problems or families with small children.
The design comes at a time when America is struggling with an obesity epidemic, given that more than one-third of U.S. adults are considered obese.
(Airbus | United States Patent And Trademark Office)
Conflicts between obese and thinner passengers have even led to lawsuits, with one man suing Etihad Airways last year for claiming that sitting next to a "grossly overweight" passenger left him with back injuries.
Airbus, for its part, said that it files "hundreds of patents each year." Spokesman Eduardo Galicia Roquero noted, "It does not mean that the idea described in the patent is being developed for any particular production application."
Whether or not the bench makes its way into airplanes, the idea has merit, given that many passengers, regardless of girth, have issues fitting into increasingly smaller economy seats. According to Airbus, two heavier passengers could sit side-by-side, with the seatbelts adjusted to fit them. The bench could also be reconfigured to fit a family of two adults and two smaller children, as well as three adults.
"In modern means of transport, particularly in aircraft, optimum utilization of the space available in a passenger cabin is of major economic importance," the patent application notes. "The cabin layout ... should be as flexibly, rapidly and easily reconfigurable as possible."
Pricing would be up to the airlines, but it's possible that the bench would allow airlines to charge obese passengers more money than a single economy ticket. Since the bench can fit three adults or a family of four, one could imagine an airline might consider the bench as seating for three or four people, and then charge fatter passengers accordingly.
Some airlines already require obese passengers to buy two tickets, such as American Airlines, which requires that passengers whose bodies extend 1 inch beyond the armrest to buy two seats.