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.