It’s hardly surprising that airlines are looking at innovative ways to increase cabin seat count when each extra economy class seat generates approximately USD1 million in additional revenue over a ten-year period. But, as is the way with many things, ‘size matters’ and in aircraft seating this means that seat width is an increasingly important factor.
Having sat in many of the seats on display at this year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) it became apparent that the ‘perceived versus physical’ seat-pitches claimed by the exhibitors vary widely with some even falling into the realm of ‘Apples versus Oranges’ comparisons.
Several airlines (including Air France, Delta and Lufthansa) have introduced seats with slimmer back rests which have been pitched closer together allowing extra seat rows to be installed. As Lufthansa’s marketing material for the Recaro SL3510 seat says, “Lufthansa will thus offer an additional 2,000 or so seats on its short and medium-haul fleet – equivalent to the capacity of twelve new Airbus A320s.”
In parallel it’s been claimed that these new slim seats provide greater legroom than their actual physical pitch would have traditionally provided. Lufthansa says, “the Recaro seat with its slim backrest and an optimised, ergonomic shape will give passengers an extra 4 cm of room at knee level alone.” – which happily for the passenger has been borne out in practice as a recent Lufthansa flight attested.
The unveiling of the new PF2000 economy class seat at this year’s AIX was accompanied by some bold claims from design and manufacturing collaboration partners Magna International, Design Q and Pitch Aircraft Seating. Pitch’s Stewart Cordner says, “in our market analysis passengers much prefer to have their private space protected by a non-reclining seat rather than have a little more legroom”.
The PF2000 features a fixed recline with a modular “back pack” giving airlines a choice of specification options from integrated IFE solutions to high level magazine storage. Pitch claim that when installed at a 28-inch pitch their seat provides a 29.5-inch pitch ‘feel’. Cordner says, “everything is modeled on the average person” and acknowledges that whilst satisfying 98% of passengers there will be cases where some will have insufficient legroom. Cordner says that, “certification is due to finish in September  with production starting in December ” and Pitch will offer a 12-week delivery turn-round from order.
In comparison, ACRO’s Superlight R seat is marketed as a rugged, durable and exceptionally comfortable seat with 5″ of recline. Having had the opportunity to test the seat at AIX, the combination of the seating position and scalloped seat back provided ample legroom (for all 6’3” / 1.9m of me), even at a pitch of 28.75-inches. ACRO have over 10,000 Superlight seats flying on both Airbus and Boeing aircraft with Jet2, Primera Air, Blue Panorama, Amsterdam Airlines and Abna Nova.
But the story of economy class seat trends is not just one of seat-pitch alone – it’s also about seat width. Despite the stark fact that the world’s population is becoming increasingly ‘oversized’, and with body-mass-index (BMI) trends in the BRIC nations now starting to track their US and Western European counterparts, some airlines are actually reducing seat width.
In some markets, predominantly but not exclusively in Asia-Pacific, airlines are making the most of fuselage cross-sections and introducing 9-abreast seating where once there was 8-abreast and even introducing 10-abreast instead of 9. Cebu Pacific’s recent announcement that they plan to introduce 440-seat all-economy A330s is indicative of this trend in the market.
At AIX, Airbus demonstrated an innovative economy class triple-seat group which makes good use of Airbus’s wider fuselage cross sections. Dubbed the 20/17/17 it features a 20-inch wide seat in the aisle position made possible by ‘pinching’ an inch of width from both of the neighbouring seats – reducing their width from 18 inches to 17 inches.
What is immediately apparent when you sit down in this 20-inch wide seat is that you now have some ‘wiggle-room’. This gives a passenger the opportunity to modify their sitting position, shift their weight balance and the freedom to position their legs to the left or right, significantly improving the comfort of the seat and the effective legroom.
For those of us ‘non-vertically challenged’ travelers this also allows us to keep our knees together and positioned straight ahead of us – rather than the legs-akimbo discomfort that many economy class seating arrangements deliver today.