Around the World in a Daze: Dubai to Tokyo and Honolulu (Sponsored Post)

Airbus has been focusing a lot lately on the issue of seat width and is even pushing for an 18 inch minimum width standard for full-service long-haul. As part of their efforts, they came to Cranky to get a real world example. We sent Nate (who you might remember from his Emirates series) around the world in coach courtesy of Airbus in order to try out various seat widths. Airbus has sponsored three posts talking about his trip. This is the second. The first half of the trip report ran Tuesday with a wrap-up article coming tomorrow.

Disclosure: This journey was sponsored by Airbus, but the views and content are the author’s own.


17 September
Dubai to Tokyo
Boeing 777, 100% full in Economy
Seat 19C, Economy
Seat width: 17
Flight time: 9 hours, 26 minutes

777-200LR

The dreaded 10-seat abreast configuration in this 777 scared me. I’ve read about it on the web forums and heard about it from friends… I was expecting 9 hours from hell. I was able to select a seat near the front of the cabin, meaning no one bumping me as they continually walked up and down the aisle. And of course it put me within eye shot of uber-nice comfort.

When I got to my row, my seatmates had yet to arrive and the bin over my row was still completely empty and took my seat. My first impression was of the armrests digging into my thighs; then noticing that none of the armrests go all the way up. I was pleased to discover the aisle armrest was movable – but instead of poking me in my thigh, it was now poking me in my shoulder.

Once my seatmates arrived I buckled in and was astonished to find I had at least 6 inches of room on my seatbelt – I immediately began to feel sorry for the poor soul who uses up the entire seatbelt! The seat did feel cramped; my elbows were definitely in the aisle and spilling into my petite seatmate’s personal space, however it didn’t seem to bother her (maybe not speaking English had a part to play in that one, too!). No IFE box under the seat meant I could cross my feet, and the USB and power ports were a nice addition.

Despite this amazing inflight entertainment, the tighter seat and aisle was noticeable. 8 hours and 54 minutes into the flight had me wishing it was only 8 minutes longer. Attempts to sleep were interrupted by the flight crew as they went between the cabins. The meal service was amazing for economy standards, it just meant more runs to the lavatory – the only solitude I could find on the flight where I could sit and my thighs could breathe. Unfortunately spending more than 10 minutes in the lavatory would probably cause some alarm by fellow passengers and/or crew.

I even noticed the passenger across the aisle — who would be your “average” sized American — was getting up often to use the bathroom for the same reason as me. Walking down the aisle was a bit of a challenge as we both would bump into pretty much every seat.

The seat itself was quite nice, the movable winged headrest was nice and the padding was a lot better than I expected (there is some consistency with this airline and their economy cabins, despite a 2″ difference between A380 and 777) – however I would not voluntarily chose to fly on a 10-abreast 777.

Seat Width Seat Back Padding Leg room Under seat Arm rests Overall
Grade D B B C A D C-

19 September
Tokyo to Honolulu
Boeing 747-400, 90% full in Economy
Seat 31H, Economy
Seat width: 17
Flight time: 7 hours, 10 minutes

747-400

The last and final leg of my journey was the first in economy of a 747… I’ve been fortunate to always get upgraded or seated in a premium cabin when flying on the Queen of the Skies. I was expecting a fairly light load, only to discover at check-in we’d be almost full.

This plane was recently upgraded by the airline and it was quite obvious with seatback monitors, power ports under the seats, and a USB charger. As I took my seat, I felt comfortable. The leather covered this nicely-padded seat. A spot check showed no underseat inflight entertainment box, the arm rests weren’t jammed into my thighs, and both would go all the way up.

As my seatmates joined, the man next to me noticed I spilled over a bit (but not horribly), and he leaned in to his wife. They both ended up sleeping like this for the entire flight.

Overall, the Queen of the Skies was the best of the 17 inch wide seats. She had a wide aisle, the recent upgrade of the seats was definitely well thought out, and the crew did make a difference. Even though I had a tight seat, I only had to do one “breather” run to the lavatory.

I only got about 2 or 3 hours of rest in, and that was OK… it was a fairly comfortable seat despite the width. Global Entry put me from gate to curb in 13 minutes.

Seat Width Seat Back Padding Leg room Under seat Arm rests Overall
Grade D B B B A A B

The first half of Nate’s trip report from Honolulu to Dubai via LA, Boston, Toronto, and London was posted Tuesday. Another post wrapping up his experience will be posted tomorrow.


19 Responses to Around the World in a Daze: Dubai to Tokyo and Honolulu (Sponsored Post)

  1. Marco says:

    I think CF did a great job flying around the world for these blog post. Interesting reading the various configurations and I guess you will never be able to go around and try every configuration on every airline… after all it was 1 particular journey.
    Would be great to get some more info on the legroom as that is always squeezed!
    Flipping your blog in our magazine!

  2. Mike says:

    I still think this series would have appeared much less bias if you just presented the seat dimensions and not the aircraft type. Hopefully, it would still show the point Airbus wanted to make, that larger seats are better, and would not read like it was a paid hit piece against Boeing.

    Also, what happens next week if Boeing decides to sponsor you to write a series about which manufacturer provides better cabin service? Or who makes a better business class? In that case you could ride around in a fully flat seat on all the Boeing legs, and then use angled flat, or domestic first for all the Airbus ones…

    • haolenate says:

      well, if you read my Emirates series a while back, I did have a better overall experience on Emirates 777 than I did in the A380 in business ^_^

  3. I finally got the point of all this, guess I didn’t pay attention on part one that Airbus is trying to push for a minimum 18″ width as standard across the board.

    It must be aimed at a push to the fat American market because as was hinted in this reading, it was making it sound like the aircraft manufacture was causing the uncomfortable seating when it’s the airlines who pick the seat and how many seats in a row. Airbus must want fat Americans to start blaming the airline and not them.

    A better comparison would have been flying the same type aircraft but using different airlines to compare how each has their seating. Judge the airlines not the aircraft manufacture in this case.

    • Chan Win says:

      Very good point – although the trip and subsequent posts are sponsored by airbus it is the airlines that ultimately decide the seating configuration.

    • Shane says:

      David: You are getting close. Even though Boeing’s intention was to have roomier seats and aisles, the loophole finders figured out they could squeeze an extra seat in the row, which you cannot do with Airbus. It is obvious that Airbus is lobbying for wider seats to try to level the playing field between the two sets of airplanes. If airlines were no longer allowed to have 777’s at 3-4-3, then they look less attractive from a ROI and revenue standpoint.

      • A says:

        Ding. Ding. Ding. Airbus wouldn’t sponsor this if there wasn’t anything in it for them. Of course you could imagine that wider seats = less seats = more aircraft, and their desire is pure, ha ha ha!

        In the widebody duopoly I’m sure their research told them Boeing would look worse, thus, lets let an unbiased 3rd party voice do a bit of PR dirty work, so to speak. Now I’m guessing that Airbus wanted the equipment type published, so correct me if I’m wrong. Still seems rather convenient that the new 787 got all the hate while a very old design 747 got tepid praise as it makes it read heavy on Airbus bias.

        Of course I’d take an 18″ seat over 17″ just like I’d take a 19″ seat over an 18″…that’s a no brainer…so comments on fatigue felt over long legs on various seat widths is interesting research. Unfortunately I think Boeing has the better design (that allows an extra seat) in the world where nothing matters but ticket price. The operators have way more to gain than lose by adding that seat and so long as the seats keep getting filled they won’t change. Hint to Airbus on the A350 design…or is it too late for that?

  4. MeanMeosh says:

    Your experience shows exactly why I commented in your last post that I avoid the dreaded 3-4-3 configured 777 at all costs. Are you listening, AA and EK????

  5. Perhaps this was already covered and I missed it, but what are Nate’s dimensions? It would make his reviews a bit more relevant to the readers, as they could compare height/weight/build to see how they would fare in these same seats.

    • CF says:

      Hajime Sano – Nate is a big enough guy that seat width would make a difference. That’s why I reached out to him to see if he wanted to do this trip. I’ll let him chime in if he wants to provide more details.

  6. AJ says:

    For all this hoopla, the bulk of the population flew long haul on 17.2 inch wide seats on 747s and survived. And to the sponsor of this post, the 350XWB is only 5 inches wider than the 787. So if a 787 has 17 inch wide seats, the a350 is not going to have more than 17.5 wide seats unless they squeeze the aisle even more.

    So not sure what Airbus is going to say when people start flying 17.5 inch wide airbuses for long haul. But I would love to hear a response from the gentleman who wrote this sponsored post about that.

  7. JayB says:

    Appreciate the write-ups. The more you include, the more it raises questions about something else. On one leg here, and often in Cranky’s trip reports, you see that the particular cabin was 100% full.

    I suspect one sees this more and more these days. I wonder, for a day, a route, whatever, what percentage of times are cabins, meaning the economy cabin, 100% full. It used to take a lot of overbooking to get that load factor, but today?

    Like, one week in advance, what was the load booked? How about the day before? Are more and more flights 70% booked just a little in advance, then the last couple of days, the last couple of hours, all kinds of things happen? Like maybe 25% of those booked suddenly get upgraded and everyone else who would have been overbooked, suddenly get a seat?

    Is it everything about being able to right-size capacity today? I don’t see the type plane change from one day to next, or am I just not seeing it? Maybe I’m just not flying on those days when the load was 39%?

    What is different about today, or maybe I really never understood the past?

    • CF says:

      JayB – Load factors have climbed a lot over the last few years. It used to be unheard of to see an average load factor above 80% but now pretty much everyone is above that point. Of course, it’s not that flights are, say, 85% full. It’s that a lot of flights during peak times are 100% full and others during off peak times will be less. Airlines have done as much as they can to trim the schedules and eliminate flights at times that don’t work. But they still have these expensive assets to fly around. That’s why Allegiant gets even higher load factors at 90% or so. If a flight doesn’t do well, Allegiant’s cheap airplanes are easy to just sit on the ground.

  8. Alex Hill says:

    Cranky, agreeing to do a sponsored post on this topic with the condition that you not publish airline names is very poor journalism, no matter how clear you are that this is a sponsored post. It’s the airlines (Emirates and United) who decided to cram 10 across into a 777 and 9 across into a 787, when they were designed to be economical and very comfortable with the fewer-seats configuration, and it’s the airlines who should get the blame.

    • MW says:

      I disagree with the concept of a sponsored post being poor journalism. Cranky, as all publishers, must pay the bills. If we take this series as an ADVERTISEMENT for Airbus, which it is, then there is no problem. It is NOT journalism, it is advertising. I am OK with that.

      This is no different than what I see every week in Business Week. They have these ten page advertising sections on some topic — business in a china, executive jets, whatever. There is copy that is somewhat informative, but you know it is part of the advertising so you accept that it may be biased/slanted. The key is proper disclosure. Then we can take it with as many grains of salt needed.

      Hey, the man has to pay the bills. He’s got a young family to support!

  9. Jeremy says:

    This would have been much more helpful if it wasn’t sponsored by Airbus. All Boeing aircraft may or not be horrible. But if you’re sponsored by Airbus its hard to take it seriously.

  10. haolenate says:

    I certainly hope they are. But, the 777 wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. The airline (its obvious it is Emirates) really does a good job with keeping their seat designs consistent and I felt that is one of the key elements of their cabin designs. The seat on the 777 and A380 (also on Emirates) have the exact same core elements: no underseat IFE box, moveable winged headrests, and it appears the same amount of cushioning. The legroom was consistent, I believe. I have a chart with all of that data but I think both the 777 and A380 had 12″ between the seat back and my cushion. The A380 cushion was about 2 inches LONGER though…

  11. Fran says:

    Hi – I am probably not your usual commenter as I really know nothing about seat widths and such like but lets face it – unless you can afford business any long haul flight is going to be massively uncomfortable whether your seat is 17 or 18 inches wide. The thing that would make most difference to me would be not having seats that reclined right into your face!

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