Squeezing more economy seats into less space

I’m not at the Aircraft Interior’s Expo (#AIX15), but I’m certainly following Twitter on it. For those of you who may not be familiar with #AIX15, its the largest aircraft interiors trade show of the year. So for a lot of folks, its kind’ve a big deal.

I probably should’ve lowered my expectations for the show’s new products (there’s usually a cool new seat someone’s pushing), when I saw Seth Miller aka Wandering Aramean write Have they all given up hope for the economy cabin?  In the post (a quick read I might add), he notes how the Passenger Experience Conference (a pre-cursor to AIX), had speakers who spoke more of “distract[ing] your customers” rather than actually making them comfortable. Give them In Flight Entertainment (IFE), give them in flight connectivity, do whatever you can to distract them from the fact that they’re sitting in a 27-31″ pitch, 17-18″ wide (or narrow as is more the case) seat, with someone reclining in their lap. Seth finishes the post off in saying that he could just be a curmudgeon (which, I suppose sometimes we all can be), but I don’t think that’s the case here.

Cut to the Aircraft Interior’s Expo, and a post by John Walton written for the Runway Girl Network (RGN), asserting that “Choice” has become the new Passenger Experience euphemism. If you hadn’t heard, Airbus, which formerly proposed an 18″ minimum economy seat width for all  has backed off that and gone even better! They are:

cutting seat width by between 1 and 0.5 inches, slashing armrest widths by just over 2cm (nearly an inch), angling window armrests outwards, trimming aisles and — in perhaps the worst case of foot space restriction for window passengers since Bombardier’s Q400 turboprop — jamming window seats up against the wall so far that they overhang six inches above the start of the curved sidewall. – John Walton for the Runway Girl Network

What all this results in, is a 3-5-3 A380 Economy cabin, that I suspect no one will enjoy flying in. You can find photos of this via one of the above RGN links, I just couldn’t bring myself to upload a photo of the 11-abreast, 3-5-3 A380 mock-up.

But in comes that euphemism: “Choice”

Walton cites Airbus (I think VP of Marketing, but not entirely sure), as saying:

“Well, passengers who don’t want 3-5-3 can buy premium economy.”

using this as an argument for providing more choices; e.g. the beyond emerging “Premium Economy” as a class of service, and not just a few extra inches of room.

I don’t buy it. I look at some of the airlines currently flying a 4-cabin aircraft (that would be, First, Business, Premium Economy, and Economy), like, British Airways. In fact, British Airways’ impending devaluation calls out Premium Economy quite clearly as a distinct cabin–one that is 2x the avios cost of “regular” Economy. But is all this choice a good thing? It’s not clear to me. On a flight last year on British Airways, I was surprised with how far back Club World went back – just look at the size of British Airways’ Economy cabin on the 777-200 :

British Airways 772 Seatmap, via SeatGuru

British Airways 772 Seatmap, via SeatGuru

As you can see, all this talk of “choice” is ultimately squeezing Economy into a smaller space.

The question that comes to mind when looking at such seating charts is: does that ultimately result in lower premium cabin fares (even “premium economy”) or higher “regular” economy fares? Sounds like the “Choice” approach is much better for the airlines, than for flyers.


4 thoughts on “Squeezing more economy seats into less space

  1. Saying, “they can just buy PremE” is a specious argument. There are real health & safety concerns with a layout that dense. Also, not everyone is rolling in the cash to spend that much more to fly. Yes, travelers are demanding ever cheaper (or at least not higher) fares as part of the travel experience. But say I have a $400 travel budget. Getting the super-cramped seats at $350 or PremE at $1000 (or more) doesn’t really give me a choice.

    • @Wandering Aramean – I hadn’t even thought about the safety concerns of squeezing folks into such smaller seats! There’s only so much “distracting” that can be done, too.

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