Economy class seats haven’t expanded in line with growing waistlines, but Airbus is trying to change this.
Last year Europe’s plane maker floated the idea of wider aisle seats that airlines could sell to larger passengers, budget conscious business travellers and families wanting extra wiggle room.
Airbus thinks there’s enough demand for the “extra wide” seat and have now made it a formal option for A320 aircraft, which have proved popular with budget airlines including easyJet, AirAsia and jetBlue and on short and medium haul flights.
But not everyone is convinced that wider aisle seats are the answer, as the new design sacrifices an inch from each of the window and middle seats to make room for two extra inches on the aisle seat.
It was done this way so that Airbus can keep three seats on each side of the aircraft without reducing the seat count or shrinking aisle space. But for two thirds of passengers, it would mean decreased comfort levels. And we can safely assume that ticket prices wouldn’t be reduced as a result.
While non-aisle seats would be more of a squeeze, Airbus points out that comfort levels would be similar to that on board a 737: the closest competitor to the A320, which has a slightly narrower fuselage and cabin than the A320.
So what do the airlines think?
British Airways has ruled out the wider seat for its A320s: “We have looked at Airbus’s option and believe it’s a nice idea, in the right market and for the right airline, but it’s not something that British Airways will be introducing. It doesn’t fit with our brand or what our customers are asking us for,” Amanda Allan, an airline spokesperson told Terminal U.
She added: “Our Club Europe and Euro Traveller cabins are also flexible and we can change the number of seats available in each cabin. Our short-haul Airbus can go anywhere on the network, in any configuration. Introducing Airbus’s seats would affect that and add complexity to an aircraft that works very well in its current configuration for our customers.”
Lufthansa replied to our request for comment and is keeping tight-lipped on the matter: “We have not made a decision on this option and it would be premature to give an indication, either, if we would or would not opt for a wider seat option,” said Martin Riecken, an airline spokesperson.
Some of the larger A320 operators, including easyJet, JetBlue and AirAsia would have more to gain from charging for wider aisle seats.
Forcing larger passengers to pay extra for an aisle seat raises ethical questions, although in extreme cases, some airlines in the States require passengers to pay for an extra seat if they cannot fasten an extension belt around them and lower both armrests.
In economy, where personal comfort is determined by factors including legroom, seat pitch and width, every inch counts. This is especially true for tall passengers, who often prefer the aisle seat as it gives them a bit more knee room.
There are other issues: economy seating is already a squeeze for passengers considered of average build, and the extra two inches on the aisle seat only goes so far to address the needs of larger passengers.
Whether it will fly with airlines? This is one development to watch.