Push for wider plane seats – all about the bottom line?

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(CBS News/MoneyWatch) – European airplane maker Airbus recently called for wider economy seats on long-haul flights, from the current standard of just over 17 inches a seat, to a wider 18 inches. The company put out a statement touting greater comfort and a 53 percent increase in sleep comfort simply by adding the extra inch.

While passengers may applaud the move as being customer-friendly, with an eye to comfort, aviation expert Joseph Schwieterman at DuPaul University said it might not be so much about the greater good as it is about simple economics. “Boeing has seen it can squeeze 10 seats across in its 777, and Airbus may not have that advantage. The math just may not work out to allow for extra seats.”

The current 17-inch seat standard was designed in the 1950’s to fit the hips of the average U.S. Air Force pilot at the time. But, said Airbus representatives in a statement, that’s not a working model for today’s flying public. “Our research reveals that not only does seat width have a dramatic impact on passenger comfort but also there is now a growing cohort of discerning economy passengers who are not prepared to accept long haul 17 inch crusher seats.”

But more seats mean more customers, and more customers mean more money for the airlines. That’s good for competitor Boeing’s (BA) business model, said Schwieterman, “Boeing is trying to push carriers into buying new planes rather than running old equipment longer. The promise of a more dense seat arrangements can be a big carrot.”

Airbus, meanwhile, is appealing to the flying public to put pressure on the aviation industry. They recently released an ad showing three people sitting within inches of each other, crammed side-by-side at a restaurant. The caption reads, “You’d never accept this.” The next slide is of the same three people sitting on a plane, and the question “So why would you accept this?”

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1 Comment

  • Michael Kewl

    With the Airlines making record profits off their fee-based flying now they do not need more passengers…so why not more room for the paying customers now flying???

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