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Airline seats get a makeover

The airline seat.

It's as fundamental to the flying experience as the pilot in the cockpit, and the engine and wings of the plane. You may dread the middle seat, or love to sit on the aisle, but regardless of your preference, you've got to have somewhere to sit if you're going to fly.

But increasingly, this most elemental of plane features is getting a makeover, with airlines slimming them down, eking out extra legroom, even turning them into beds to attract more fliers and stand out from their peers.

JetBlue's lie-flat seats will make their debut next year on non-stop flights between New York and Los Angeles, and New York and San Francisco.

United began featuring slimmer seats on its Airbus fleet in May, promising more legroom even as it squeezed on extra seats.

In September, Delta will begin receiving the first of dozens of Boeing jets with power outlets at seats throughout the plane.

"I would say that definitely it has become an increasingly important part of the travel experience," says Jami Counter, senior director of SeatGuru, a website that offers information and reviews of airline seats, services and amenities. "Obviously, you always needed a seat, but 15 years ago, an airline seat was an airline seat was an airline seat, at least in economy. There wasn't much differentiation."

Now, "what you've seen is a fairly rapid investment, focus on innovation," Counter continues. "You have seatback TVs. Power ports are becoming more ubiquitous, and you've gone to lighter-weight seats that allow airlines to put in additional rows of seats without impacting passenger comfort."...

...Counter says that the so-called "slim-line" seats, such as those being added by United, enable airlines to squeeze one or two more rows into a narrow body jet, and possibly as many as four additional rows in a wide-body plane. Those extra seats, Counter says, can be "the difference between several hundred dollars of profit, and not being profitable" on a given flight.

Counter also expects airlines to get more creative configuring cabins.

"Instead of forward-facing seats," he says, for instance, "some seats may be more angled to allow for more effective leg room without taking up more space in the cabin."...