United opts for slimmer seats on Airbus narrowbody fleet to cut fuel and boost revenues

August 19, 2012

Ambiance, Comfort

Recaro BL3520 150x150 United opts for slimmer seats on Airbus narrowbody fleet to cut fuel and boost revenues  United Airlines has joined a growing list of carriers in opting for a slimmer seat design, and has settled on Recaro’s award-winning economy-class seat, the BL3250 model, for its Airbus narrowbody fleet. The US major aims to cut fuel burn with the lightweight seats, and bolster the revenue generating capabilities of each aircraft by squeezing in another row of seats.

The airline tells the APEX Editor’s Blog that the seats will debut on its fleet of 152 Airbus narrowbodies next year, and will continue to be rolled out through 2014. United concludes the thinner seat allows for the addition of an extra row of seating on its Airbus narrowbodies, without compromising passenger legroom.

The BL3250 has proven to be a very big hit in Europe. Earlier this year Recaro said that after initial deliveries to Lufthansa, Austrian, Swiss, Germanwings, and Brussels Airlines, several other European airlines opted for the economy-class seat. But customers in the Americas have also “very clearly communicated to us that the BL3520 hits the sweet spot in terms of living space, weight, and comfort”, says Jim Cangiano, VP sales and marketing at Recaro Aircraft Seating Americas. “Airlines in the US are flying up to 7-hour segments with their Airbus A320/Boeing 737 aircraft. So our modular comfort kit – with additional features like modified cushions, IFE, PC power and headrest – turns out to be a critical element for their purchase decision.”

Online seat configuration site Seatguru shows that United operates its Airbus narrowbodies in a three-class configuration. The A319s feature 72 economy seats with a 31in pitch, 40 Economy Plus seats featuring a 35in pitch and eight first-class seats with a pitch of 38in. The site indicates the carrier operates two versions of the A320 variant. One features 138 seats configured with 90 economy seats with a 31in pitch, 36 in Economy Plus offering a 36in pitch and 12 in first class with 38in of pitch. The larger 144-seat A320 variant holds 90 economy seats with 31in of pitch, 42 Economy Plus seats with 36in pitch and 12 first-class seats with the larger 38in pitch.

United was a pioneer in providing extended legroom via Economy Plus, and its legacy rivals American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have followed suit with their own versions. Delta’s “Economy Comfort” offers 34in pitch or more, which is a 3in extension of the standard 31in pitch in the carrier’s economy class. American plans to offer an additional 4-6in of pitch to its standard 31-33in economy pitch in its new “Main Cabin Extra” offering, which is debuting this year on its Boeing 777s. Main Cabin Extra will be featured on all f the carrier’s new deliveries, and the carrier aims to retrofit its existing fleet with the premium economy offering.

Canadian carrier WestJet is the latest airline to table plans for a premium economy offering, which will offer 36in of pitch and stadardise regular economy seat pitch at 31in-32in. The airline’s 17 Boeing 737-800s currently offer a more generous 34in pitch in their single economy-class configuration.

United’s aim in outfitting its Airbus narrowbodies with the slimmer Recaro seats is to reduce weight, which translates into what carrier CFO John Rainey recently characterised as “an appreciable amount of fuel savings”. He also acknowledged the extra seats are “better from a revenue perspective”.

The new seats on United’s Airbus narrowbodies are the latest in a host of interior changes the carrier is planning for the fleet type. During April of this year United began installing larger bins on the jets to increase the aircraft’s capacity of handling standard 21-in roll-aboard bags by two-thirds. Other Airbus cabin improvements include better lighting, and eventually Wi-Fi. United will feature Wi-Fi fleetwide by 2015 and is installing the Panasonic eXConnect system powered by Ku-band satellites on its Airbus twinjets.

Adoption of lighter and thinner seats by carriers has quickly spread worldwide throughout the last few years. The trend of opting for slimmer seats to add capacity to aircraft without compromising passenger comfort spans low cost and legacy carriers alike. Southwest Airlines in late 2011 revealed a massive interior upgrade to its Boeing 737-700 fleet dubbed “EVOLVE” that features the addition of six seats on the narrowbody jets, which will reduce pitch by a single inch to 31in. But the carrier states the seat re-design actually allows for more cubic space around the body.

Rainey stated the possibility exists for United to consider featuring slimmer seats on additional fleet types. However, he said the carrier has made no firm commitments in that regard.

However, United remains confident the changes being made to its Airbus narrowbody fleet will result in “a much better aircraft for our passengers and a better customer convenience”, Rainey declared.

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About Lori Ranson

Lori Ranson has spent more than a decade covering the commercial aviation industry, specialising in the North American market. Previously she was Americas Air Transport Editor for Flightglobal and currently is a Senior Analyst at the Centre For Aviation and a freelance journalist. Her coverage has touched on all aspects of commercial aviation, including marketing and distribution, network development, safety, maintenance, repair and overhaul, aircraft programmes, alliances, regulatory developments and finance.

View all posts by Lori Ranson

13 Responses to “United opts for slimmer seats on Airbus narrowbody fleet to cut fuel and boost revenues”

  1. Wandering Aramean Says:

    Since when is E+ considered a different cabin of service? Hopefully the airlines don’t start thinking that way, too. That would be very bad for FFers and upgrades.

    Also, has United confirmed that they will be buying the “comfort” package adding better cushions and power? Or is that just something that Recaro offers?


  2. Oliver2002 Says:

    The BL3250, although’award winning’ has not performed very well at LH. The engineered fabric that is the backbone of the slim seat, give way too fast, requiring regular checks.(He new seat back is now too thin, so any touch to the back is relayed instantly. I wonder how the sensitve US customer will react to this seat on AA, AS and UA. The padding may help a bit, but with the larger size passengers it will not be so pleasant.


  3. Cook Says:

    Save fuel? Sure, it is is a good thing. But at the increased expense of coach class cusomer’s expense? We’ll just have to see. I’ve seen city busses with more comfortable seats. For a domestic flight of two hours or less in block time, maybe. Any more than 120 minutes and I’ll “J-bird” it up to business class.
    Questions? Are there arm rests – to help keep the large pax contained? I also think that Recaro should market a custim-fit protection device, some slab of something firm that slides down between the seats (under the armrest) and obviously on my side, that will prevent the unwashed fat chick’s blubber from leaking into my seat space. Yes, I dislike obese folks encroaching my space! S/he has several choices… Buy TWO seats, one for each cheek, don’t get on the airplane to begin with or just walk. Frankly, walking to his/her destination is probably the best move. Just imagine the blubber lost during the process!
    OK, United’s got new seats for their AB fleet. When implemented will no longer measure seat pitch in inches, but inches and tenths of inches!
    Phooie! As often as possible, I’d rather drive and I don’t really care how much it costs.


  4. Intermodal64 Says:

    When you sit two inches closer to the person in front of you — in already very confined quarters — this can’t be “better for the customer,” no matter how they spin it. I wonder if E+ will be reduced to 33″ from about 35″ or if regular economy will go to 29″ from 31″?


  5. Bama Says:

    Cook, you have options too.

    Walk (since it IS healthier as you said), drive, or spend the extra bucks for First Class to make sure you get more room. If YOU are the one with the problem then its up to YOU to resolve it *smiles*


  6. Unhappy Flyer Says:

    Got my first taste of the “improved” seats today – they suck. It is clear that United it clearly focused on their needs and not their customer. They turned the A320 into a 737. Nice work…


    • David Kuney Says:

      These are the worst seats ever. Feels like a plastic stool. Just flew on one and makes me want to switch carriers.


  7. See the fastest way to lose weight Says:

    I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Very well



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