Airlines are perpetually in a battle for survival, often eking out a living tiny margins – if they are lucky enough to be profitable. Part of the equation is making sure the maximum number of paying passengers are carried on every flight. As a result, we have seen:
- Airbus A330s go from a comfortable row layout of 2-4-2 with 8 seats across to 3-3-3
- The Boeing 777, originally envisaged to seat 9 across in a 3-3-3 or 2-5-2 layout now routinely touts a squishy 3-4-3 layout
- Most recently, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner has gained a reputation for being squishy. Nearly all airlines are fitting theirs with 9-across layouts rather than the recommended 8.
So used to being squeezed are we that complaints are no longer heard – it is the new normal.
Extra space from thin air?
Amid this, Air New Zealand has come up with its own solution to squishy seats. Not by removing a seat, but by making better use of the available space. A common aversion amongst passengers is being stuck in the middle seat, with most favouring aisle or window seats. This is because aisle and window seats offer more personal space, whether real or imagined. The new seats address the imbalance by adding 3 cm (or just over an inch) of extra seat width to the middle seat. At the same time, window and aisle seats are 1 cm wider, meaning no one is worse off. There are no plans to alter seat pitch.
From 2018, new Airbus A320 and A321 NEO aircraft will be delivered with these seats from British manufacturer Acro. At this stage, the final configuration has yet to be finalised. Nor, for that matter, has the delivery schedule. The seats were revealed at the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, seen here:
As far as we can tell, the extra space appears to come from the narrowing of armrests. Additionally, seat recline controls are on the seat base, rather than on the armrest. Casual feedback so far seems to suggests that these wider economy seats are very comfortable, and we hope this remain so when they become a reality.