Airbus cited sleep-study results in calling on airlines to set an 18-inch minimum seat width standard for long-haul flights. Organizations representing the airline industry said seating options should be left to individual carriers.
The manufacturer commissioned research by The London Sleep Center, which recorded physiological sleep changes in a sample of six healthy adults seated in a simulated cabin environment. The study participants completed a series of “night sleeps in flight simulations re-creating [the] long-haul economy passenger experience,” with all variables kept constant except for seat width, which changed between 17 and 18 inches.
The study found that 18-inch-wide seats improved sleep quality variables by up to 53 percent when compared to the narrower seat. “All passengers experienced a deeper, less disturbed and longer night’s sleep in the 18-inch seat,” stated Irshaad Ebrahim, the sleep clinic’s medical director. “When it comes to flying long haul in economy, an inch makes a huge difference in passenger comfort.”
Airbus said that it has maintained a standard, 18-inch minimum seat width in its long-haul economy cabins. “However, other manufacturers are eroding passenger comfort standards by going back to narrower seat widths from the 1950s in order to remain competitive.”
In a statement emailed to AIN, Boeing said that it continually discusses airline requirements with its customers. “That has helped us create a family of long-range, twin-aisle airplanes that are the most preferred by both airlines and their passengers,” it said. “Airlines ask us for the flexibility to offer a great experience for passengers in a way that makes economic sense for the airline and economic sense for their passengers. What they haven’t asked for is an arbitrary, self-serving seat-width standard.”
Asked to comment on the Airbus announcement, Airlines for America, the trade organization representing major U.S. airlines, said, “We believe individual airlines should be able to determine fleet configurations that best meet their customers’ needs, as they do today.” The International Air Transport Association, representing international carriers, said, “Beyond areas such as safety requirements, seat width is best left for the market to decide.”
On October 23, The Wall Street Journal reported that airlines are making more room for premium-class seating by wedging additional seats into economy rows, “bringing the short-haul standard to long-haul flying.” The trend reverses decades of seat growth in economy class that peaked at 18.5 inches’ seat width on the Boeing 777 and later the Airbus A380. Now airlines are moving to 17-inch-wide seats on the Boeing 777 and 787 and 18-inch seats on the new Airbus A350. Ten airlines around the world fly Airbus A330s with nine 16.7-inch seats in each row, the newspaper said. (“In the last three years, Airbus has delivered A330s with an average of 18-inch seats in economy,” Airbus told AIN. “Customers [airlines] chose different seats for different markets, but our standard remains 18 inches.”)
“It’s a great effort on Airbus’s part to put passenger comfort in the forefront, and we support the cause as a champion for all fliers,” said Ranga Natarajan, senior product manager for airline seating website SeatGuru. “We should commend the airlines on the ever-increasing amenities being provided in [their] aircraft, but we should not forget personal space, especially on long-haul flights.”