Better desigh through universal concepts


Until 1971, when The Tampa International Airport opened its new midfield terminal, all public seating was a type of tandem seating.  The designer of the interior of the Landside Terminal was not satisfied that tandem seating was a good idea at all.  They analyzed how tandem seating performed and found:


1. There is no place to put carry-on items except underfoot or on a seat;
2. With rows that are close enough to provide density, there is no room to stretch out or have space for bags and still have room for circulation;
3. Feet and bags in the aisles between facing rows are tripping hazards;
4. The aisles between facing rows are not ample for the handicap;
5. It is awkward to have a conversation with a person who is seated right next to you without twisting in the seat;
6. It is very difficult for three or more people to carry on a conversation when seated in a straight row;
7. If everyone were to follow their natural instincts and not crowd in next to strangers, no more than half of the seats would be utilized;
8. Crowding in next to strangers adds to an already stressful situation. There is no space to move without invading someone else’s space;
9. Having to share arms with the seat on either side adds to the crowded feeling;
10. Rows pushed tight back to back aggravates the crowding problem;
11. Face to face rows have people looking directly across at each other, which are uncomfortable for many people;
12. Rows and rows of seats are institutional looking and unfriendly;
13. To achieve the most seats per sq. ft., tables are not used very often or in great numbers;
14. Without tables to place food items, they are place on the floor and cause spills;

15. Without tables the cost of cleaning the floor is 50% higher..

16. Back to back rows create a cleaning problem;

17. In smoking areas, if tables are not provided, smoking urns must be placed in already crowded aisle space, which also complicates the cleaning process;
18. If an inadequate number of tables are provided, there will be 1/3 fewer seats;



When we started on the Landside Terminal design with Reynolds, Smith and Hills Architects, it had been decided that the floors would be carpeted ans the seating would be Herman Miller Eames Tandem seating.  We also knew that we wanted much friendlier seating arrangements. In order to solve most of the problems with tandem or beam seating, we started with two seats separated by a table. The table with was wide enough to allow a large person seated in one seat to put their hands behind their head with elbows extended without crossing the centerline of the table and the same for the other seat at the same time. ( problems 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 & 18) We then formed 6 seat conversation groups with three of these two seat units. Each seat was like an end seat with space beside it for bags. The 6 seat groups were provided enough space for people to stretch out without interfering with anyone else. It had a living room scale for easy conversation. (problems 1, 2, 3, 5, 10,11, 12, 13, 16 & 17) The space between any 2 seat units was 3”, large enough for a wheelchair to be next to any seat. (problem 4)


Since it had been determined that the terminal would be carpeted, we had designed a very tough Wilton carpet in grays with a black pattern to mask soil and cigarette burns. To add color, we decided to place the seating groups on area rugs inset into the carpet. They were made in very bright colors and in a hexagonal shape that could stand alone or be put together in a variety ways.  Not all area rugs had seats. Some were used for display advertising and some for telephone kiosks.

The conversational arrangements made a surprising advantage to the airport. People felt that they were free to start conversations with strangers. If someone did not want to talk, they would read, work or close their eyes etc. Every seat became an acceptable seat. Anyone could get to ant seat without climbing over feet or bags. The defined space would allow kids to move around without getting out of the area.

Cleaning costs were minimized because there were no legs and no hard to get to spaces between back to back seats. The back to back seats were spaced much farther apart than tandem seats which made for more relaxed conditions.

When we made our presentation to the Aviation Authority, Leigh Fisher said we had too many seats and had us remove some.


In order to know many Cluster Seating units would be needed to meet the requirements for seating areas that were originally specifier for tandem seating, we needed to know what would be the equivalent.


This survey and study was conducted at both the Tampa International Airport and the Charlotte International Airport in order to determine how passengers utilize the tandem seating in the airline hold areas.

The object of this report is to study and or develop the following:

A.     Observe how people select their seats in the hold areas, which are not crowded;

B.     Observe how seats are selected in crowded areas;

C.     Observe what people do with their carry on items;

D.     Determine why some seats are not utilized

E.      Determine the probable number of seats taken up by a person in each of the different size groups as seated;

F.      Determine, as a percentage of the total, the number of people seated in various size groups;

G.     Determine what percentage of the seating is utilized under the most crowded conditions.



Tandem seating s composed of rows of seats attached to a straight base in various lengths. The seats can be individual with or without arms or with shared arms. Table modules can be placed between seating modules. In this study all units had shared arms and no tables. The seating modules are nominally two feet wide. In most cases, the tandem units are placed in rows back to back. Back to back rows face other back-to-back rows with a four and a half foot aisles between rows. Access to the seats is through cross aisles and down the aisles between facing rows. Row lengths and cross aisles affect the density of the seating in an area. Shorter rows require more circulation space. Longer rows reduce the access to seats in the middle of the rows thereby reducing seating density.


Since the data collected at Tampa was not during a peak period of the year, it was decided to also collect data at the Charlotte Airport. All data was collected at peak periods of the days involved and at the most crowded gates. Seating patterns were recorded on sheets showing which seats were occupied, which were vacant, and which had items on them. Each sheet had the gate number and time of departure. Individual rows were recorded individually. Only rows without tables were recorded since the tables change the way in which people seat themselves. A table is equivalent to a space between the ends of rows.

By collecting the information in this manner, we can tabulate and review sever aspects of how the tandem seating is being utilized


The following information was determined from the survey sheets:

i.         Total number of seats involved (both locations);

ii.       Total number of people seated (both locations);

iii.      Total number of seats with items on them (both locations);

iv.     How people seated themselves in crowded and non-crowded areas;

v.       Seating patterns on the most crowded rows;

vi.     Sizes and quantities of all the different groups as seated.

From this we are able to make observations and comparisons to help understand how tandem seating is used under various conditions.



Where there are plenty of seats to select from, the parties space themselves apart over the entire seating area. When more than one group or individual sits on tandem seating units, they leave at least one or two seats between themselves and other groups. People arrive at the airport in various size parties, but the vast majority come as individuals or in pairs (see figure 1). With two thirds coming as individuals, they select their seats as individuals with space around them. In non-crowded areas, groups of two and three do the same. Since it is hard for more than three people to carry on a conversation while seated in a straight line, larger groups tend to split up and sit across from each other making two smaller groups.

Areas that fill up first are near

          Where greeters can see where passengers arrive

          The gates

          The check in counters

          The phones


          Where early arrivals can spot friends

Where possible, the above areas should not be grouped together.


As areas become crowded, most of the remaining available seats are in singles and pairs. Larger groups than pairs, which have not seated themselves early, cannot often find space where they can all sit together. At this point, some may sit while the rest stand; others go elsewhere.

If there were enough seats available so that every arriving party could sit in their own group without crowding in next to another group and no more than two seats separating any two groups, only fifty percent of the seats would be filled. For a seating area to become more than fifty percent filled, people would have to begin sitting next to or between some strangers. As this happens, the size of some of the groups become larger. The more crowded and area becomes the greater survey, were number of larger groups will make up the total and group sizes must become larger. For 100% of the tandem seating to be utilized, no bags could be placed on seats, and all group sizes would have to equal the row lengths. On once was a row longer than four seats observed completely filled (airline crew members). Only four times, during this four seat rows completely filled. There were very few three-seat rows, but they were filled more often.


If people have a choice, as they do in non-crowded areas, they will not sit next to a stranger so they leave space between themselves and others. When this space is one or two seats, chances are small that these seats will be filled. People do not want to be crowded or to crowd others that they do not know.


With only 27” between the front of the seat and the center of the aisle, there is very little room to store carry on items. Hang bags are 20” wide which is almost the width of the seat. Thirty five percent of all the people, observed in Tampa, placed something on the seat or seats next to them. People place items on seats for several reasons:

          There is no other good place to store carry on items;

          People want to reserve seats for themselves or others;

          People want to keep others from crowding in next to them.

The percentage of people putting items on seats changes very little with how crowded the area becomes.

Passengers with a lot of carry on items will sit only in places where there is space to put these items. If there are non available, they will stand or go elsewhere.


By observing how people seat themselves in non-crowded  seating areas, it becomes obvious that people do not sit next to strangers unless there are no other choices. To many, other choices include:

          Sitting in more remote seating areas;

          Going to the cocktail lounge;

          Going to the snack bar;

          Going to the gift shop;

          Going to the restroom;

          Standing in the area (often at a window).

Apparently to most, these other choices are preferable. Very few people are willing to fill in the one or two seats between strangers. It was observed that in some cases when spaces were filled, one or more of the already seated persons did not like being crowded and got up. Spaces left in the center part of long facing rows are least likely to be filled.



Since most of the seating areas observed were common seating for several gates as the case will be for Airside A, we could not define an area for any given gate or flight. To better observe how densely people will sit, we selected only the most dense rows from each of the airports surveyed. Where there were seats available which we considered still acceptable, we filled them as if someone was sitting there. From this we found that only 59.2% of the seats were filled in Tampa and 56.5% in Charlotte.

only 59.2% of the seats were filled in Tampa
and only 56.5 in Charlotte

Since only 4,000 people were observed in all, we wanted to look at the figures in more than one way.



Seated groups always have one or two spaces on each side of them unless they are seated at the end of a row or fill the entire row. Any vacant seat next to a person in a group of any given size cannot be filled without changing that group’s size. The number of seats taken up by a group varies with the row length, position along the row, and the placement of carry-on items. One individual can occupy all four seats in a four seat row or as few as only the one in which they are seated. To determine the average number of seats taken up by each size seated group, we laid out all the common seating combinations for rows from three seats long to twelve seats long (not including mirror images) where all acceptable seats are filled. From these layouts we determined how many seats the various size groups in various situations took up. We then found the average for each group and a multiplier per person in that group as follows:

                          i.            A person seated alone occupies an average of 2.12 seats;

                         ii.            People seated in pears occupy 1.6 seats each;

                        iii.            People seated in groups of three occupy 1.4 seats each;

                        iv.            People seated in groups of four occupy 1.3 seats each;

                         v.            People seated in groups of five occupy 1.1 seats each;

                       vi.            People seated in groups of six and more occupy 1 seat each.

From this, if the percentage of people seated in each group size in known, then the seating density can be determined.


In surveying seating utilization at both Tampa and Charlotte, we diagrammed where people sat and where items were placed on seats. From these diagrams, we calculated the percent of people seated in each group size. This was done for both Tamp and Charlotte. We then did the same with only those people seated on the most crowded rows at each terminal (see Figure 2).


Figure 2 compares the percentages for each group size as observed under the conditions described above. Figure 3 shows the percentages in Figure 2 as persons per 1000 people seated. The formula for seats taken by people seated in sized is applied to these numbers. A percentage of the seats occupied is determined for each situation.

Figure 4 shows a comparison of the different percentages determined by the various methods.


The consistencies between the various methods of determining maximum density confirm that no more than 59% of tandem seating can be expected to be utilized.


The distribution of the number of persons traveling together at the airport was as follows:

Number of persons in traveling party Percentage of passengers



THREE………………………   …………………………...…….5.0%

FOUR…………………………………………………...……… 3.5%


SIX……………………………………………………  …….….0.4%

SEVEN OR MORE…………….………...……………………....0.2%


Total Responses………………………………………...……2,782

On this basis, the average party size was 1.5 persons.

The above information is from a report by KPMG Peat Marwick.



The distribution of the number of persons seated together at both airports in various situations was as follows:

Tampa International Airport Percentage of People Seated
Seated group              All Rows Surveyed               Most crowded rows
ONE                                         38.5%                                    37.7%
TWO                                         34.9                                      33.3
THREE                                      13.8                                      15.7
FOUR                                         6.4                                        6.2
FIVE                                            3.4                                       3.1
SIX                                              1.4                                       1.9
SENEN OR MORE                      1.6                                       2.1
Charlotte International Airport        Percentage of People Seated
Seated group               All Rows Surveyed                   Most crowded rows
ONE                                          60.5%                                        48.6%
TWO                                          23.1                                          28.7
THREE                                        7.9                                          12.2
FOUR                                          4.4                                           6.2
FIVE                                            2.3                                           2.9
SIX                                               0.5                                           0.0
SEVEN OR MORE                       1.3                                           1.4

Tampa International Airport
All Rows Served
Group Size           Persons per 1000         Seats Used
ONE                                    385                              816
TWO                                   349                               558
THREE                                138                               193
FOUR                                   64                                 83
FIVE                                     34                                37
SIX                                       14                                14
SEVEN +                               16                                16
Total                                                                     1,717
Percent Occupied                                              58.24%
Most Crowded Rows
Group Size           Persons per 1000           Seats Used
ONE                                      377                              799
TWO                                      333                             533
THREE                                  157                             220
FOUR                                       62                              81
FIVE                                         31                              34
SIX                                            19                              19
SEVEN +                                   21                              21
TOTAL                                                                   1,717
Percent Occupied                                               58.58%
All Rows Served                                                                                                    
Group Size             Persons per 1000         Seats Used
ONE                                     605                             1,283
TWO                                   231                                370
THREE                                 79                                 111
FOUR                                  44                                  57
FIVE                                   23                                  25
SIX                                      5                                   5
SEVEN +                            13                                 13
Total                                                                      1,864
Percent Occupied 53.65%
Most Crowed Rows
Group Size             Persons per 1000        Seats Used
ONE                              486                                  1030
TWO                        287                                   459
THREE                     122                                    171
FOUR                          62                                      81
FIVE                         29                                     32
SIX                            0                                       0
SEVEN +                         14                                     14
Total                                                                       1,765
Percent Occupied                                                56.66%

The following is a report to the
Tampa International Airport

introducing Cluster Seating

Public Seating

A New Concept in Public Seating Arrangement

67% more efficient than standard tandem seating. 
Works with most tandem seat units

Every seat has:

    Two arms
    A table
    Space for feet

    Space for packages
    Access for wheelchairs

The Problem:

To keep pace with changes in society, technology, and the aviation industry itself, airlines and airport operators are having to offer a lot more for a lot less. Traditional tandem seating cannot respond adequately to such demands. Tight rows of back-to-back seating are uncomfortable for travelers, and actually discourage full occupancy of available hold room seating. Long rows and the lack of tables for travelers' use create cleaning problems and, ultimately, higher costs. Access, usability, and comfort are limited for the very young, the very old, and for many persons with disabilities.

The shortcomings of tandem seating have been recognized for quite some time. But there has been no real alternative -- until now.

The Solution:

Joseph A. Maxwell Industrial Design has developed a patented cluster seating arrangement that is more than equal to the demands facing the industry as it flies on into the 21st century. Every seat in the cluster layout provides:

  • two arms
  • a table
  • space for moving and stretching
  • space for baggage and other personal belongings
  • wheelchair access
Its an arrangement that offers a greater number of truly usable seating while reducing the cleaning and maintenance problems associated with traditional tandem layouts. Airport visitors are given a relaxing, congenial setting that will reflect favorably on the entire facility. Airlines and airport operators are given a seating Layout that maximizes existing space, minimizes lifecycle costs, and provides a "new look" that also meets people's needs.

The Numbers:

Research has determined that only 60% of traditional airport hold room seating is actually occupied at any given time. Airport visitors -- 90% of whom travel alone or in pairs -- typically stand or go elsewhere to sit, rather than crowd next to strangers. Those who can place baggage or other belongings on nearby seats do so, to create adequate "personal space."

In trial installations at Tampa International Airport, cluster seating proved to be used 100% of the time. This means that although cluster seating provides 80% of the gross seating offered by tandem arrangements, it actually nets 36% more usable seating per any given square footage of hold room area.

The Details:

Joseph A. Maxwell Industrial Design offers three types of seating clusters modules accommodating six, four, and two seats, respectively (see below). Almost any type of tandem seating unit -- even units currently on site -- can be used in the cluster modules.

Seating Cluster Type A

Seating Cluster Type B

Seating Cluster Type C

The variety of cluster modules give hold room owners/operators greater flexibility in maximizing seating per given area, clearing aisles and access corridors, and solving way finding problems. Each cluster type features the exclusive advantages of the patented design:

  • two arms for every seat;
  • seating angled for conversation or relative privacy, according to user choice;
  • ample foot and leg room, as well as space for baggage and other belongings;
  • wheelchair access to every seat;
  • a table next to every seat for placing food, drinks, etc. Tables can also be used to house P.A. speakers, A/C outlets and data ports, and Assisitive Listening Devices (ALD's), to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and/or further accommodate visitors' needs.
Tampa International Airport, repeatedly awarded the Best Airport in North America, is placing cluster seating in its new Airside "A" Terminal, now under construction. The illustration below, reproduced from actual Airside "A" plans, shows how the three cluster modules can be utilized in an airport concourse layout, together with multi-unit phone kiosks that can be fitted into one modular area.



Watch a video on Cluster Seating produced for American Airlines in 1997.

American Airlines liked the concept, but when it came time to purchase the seating, the manufacturer chosen modified the 6 seat clusters to get around my patent and never utilized the layout system.  They did nothing illegal but the end result was very bad layouts with the percentage of acceptable seats only a slightly  better than tandem seating. (60% vs 100%) I have never been approached by any manufacturer for the rights to use my patent.  See warning below.


    Traditional tandem seating has never been very

   friendly either to airport visitors or to hold room                            owners/operators.                             
             TO EQUAL 100 TANDEM SEATS                            WITH THE MAXWELL LAYOUT               


A new version of this seating concept has been designed and developed including 3D models.  These designs do not have protection at this time.  If you are interested in them, go to CONTACT and follow the instructions there.

This seating can:
Be a profit center,
Provide paging information,
Provide wayfinding information and much more.

This design includes enhanced ease of:
Maintenance, cleaning and repair,
Updating appearance and styling,

Updating technology.

If you are interested in them, go to CONTACT and follow the instructions there.