I Wouldn’t Expect to See the New Wider Airbus Aisle Seat Anytime Soon

Airbus, Seats

Airbus brought out a pretty interesting idea recently that would theoretically make it easier for airlines to charge for aisle seats. How so? It would make them wider. Though I like the thought, I wouldn’t expect to see this on an airplane near you anytime soon.

On the A320 Airbus Wide A320 Seat Conceptfamily, Airbus has long touted how the wider cabin allows for wider seats than its main competitor, the 737, in coach. In general, that’s the truth. The standard layout is for an A320 to have 18 inch-wide seats while the 737 is generally 17 to 17.2 inches wide at most. For me, seat width isn’t a big issue. I don’t have much trouble fitting into any seat, and it’s really those with the narrower armrests (like regional jets) that feel tighter even if they aren’t. But for some, this can be a real issue.

Regardless of whether it’s a real issue or not, it’s certainly an issue perceived to be important by some travelers. People say they want more room, and a wider seat would accomplish that. So Airbus has come up with a unique way to give travelers a wider seat without impacting seat density on the aircraft.

The idea is to shrink the window and middle seats by an inch to get them to standard 737 measurements. Then add two inches to the aisle to create a super-wide 20 inch seat. That’s within an inch of a domestic First Class seat width on most narrowbody airplanes. Of course, it wouldn’t be First Class. The legroom and service would be the same as coach. But it would just be wider than a regular seat. Call it Economy Plus: Wide Edition, or something like that.

I can see this being attractive to airlines but I wouldn’t expect to see a huge order coming down soon. Airlines are already quickly finding out that they can charge for regular aisle seats without any sort of physical improvement. So the threshold for justifying the ordering of all new seats is pretty high in terms of additional revenue generation. I’m not sure it can be met. Now, if I were a brand new airline starting up, I might think about adding those seats assuming that the cost to purchase them isn’t much more than the regular set of three. But you know that these would be somewhat more costly because they aren’t exactly standard seats.

Even if I don’t expect that we’ll see a lot of airlines take this option, I do like the thinking behind it. The idea of trying to improve the traveler experience without adding much cost or decreasing seating density is one that has a better chance of success than most crazy ideas out there. While a jacuzzi onboard sounds great, something like this is far closer to reality.

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42 comments on “I Wouldn’t Expect to See the New Wider Airbus Aisle Seat Anytime Soon

  1. I think Airbus have got the wrong idea. Instead, make the *middle* seat wider.

    Currently plenty of people will pay for a window seat, plenty of people will pay for an aisle for ease of access, but nobody wants the middle seat.

    Instead, give the extra space to the middle seat, and that way all seat types (and not just two thirds of seats) have a desirability meaning different customers will want something, and thus potentially pay advance seat selection fees.

      1. Realizing of course that customer satisfaction is moot if the airline folds because it doesn’t make any money I would say that the satisfaction comes slightly secondary to the making money part.

    1. +! on the wide middle seat. Bombardier touted this (at 19″) on its Cseries aircraft.

      Speaking of 19″, taking a half-inch from window and aisle seats to make for a wide middle seat would still leave the other four seats per row with more butt-room than a Boeing, CRJ or MD product. Yet the increased seat width (1.5 inches more than aisle or window) would help convince customers that middle seats aren’t such a bad thing, potentially to the point that they would pick them of their own accord. Heck, you might actually be able to charge for a seat assignment for the entire plane as a legacy because, in its own way, each seat offers a benefit that the others don’t.

    2. Never thought of that, I think its very interesting. You already have people who have strong preferences for window or aisle seats; in my opinion, this would make middle seats popular with an ever increasing amount of people (certainly not as much as window or aisle seats but it would still create some demand for middle seats where there is currently none).

  2. I’m conflicted on this. On one hand I see the need for the wider seat when I look around at many Americans, even here in the “fittest state in the country.” At the same time, being part of the “fittest” metric I don’t mind the smaller seat. Additionally, since I happen to like the window seat both to see and to sleep I would be a bit annoyed that the aisle got the extra room. Though again at the same time it wouldn’t be that big a deal since the 17″ seat is more than ample for me. AHH! The conflict! :-)

  3. You’re right, no one would replace their current seats with the new type unless they could see on paper that they could a higher fare for them and not just the current price plus a fee. Make them all full -Y- fare seats as an example.

    But with the big boys having hundreds of airplanes, the cost isn’t worth replacing all the seats.

  4. Flight attendant perspective, BAD IDEA. It limits the requests for changing seats so families can sit together. Couples separated, etc. And, then the whole issue of passengers taking those seats when they didnt pay for them.

      1. I don’t think it’s completely the same as E+. Families often try to sit together in the same row, so with E+ either everyone is in E+ or they aren’t. With this wider seat thing, now in order for a family of three to sit together, they have to pay extra for one person to get the wider aisle seat.

        E+ could still have the issue of people taking seats they didn’t pay for, but I think we’d have to ask a United or Delta flight attendant with E+/EC experience to comment on how much of an issue this is.

      2. People are still getting up in the middle of a flight and helping themselves to an E+ seat they didn’t pay for and it’s been around for at least 10-15 years.

          1. I don’t have an opinion on it either way, just pointing out that your statement “The same thing was probably said for E+ and that appears to have finally taken hold.” isn’t entirely accurate.

          2. I just meant by “taken hold” that E+ or its equivalents are now installed or planned for UA, AA and DL, so it is safe to assume that the “somebody might get something for free” argument has been adequately resolved from the airlines’ perspectives.

    1. I’m going to have to agree with FRANK here. If a family of three is traveling and they didn’t pay for the aisle seat upfront what does the flight attendant or the gate agent do? Force them to pay for that aisle seat? If it is two parents and a child that is one thing, but what about a single parent and two children?

      Cranky did a writeup about how some aggregates were having trouble handling the extras that airlines are adding. So if the infrequent flyer is taking her 2 kids to grandma and buys the tickets on one of those sites then what?

      I don’t like it. E+ is one thing, but this is just trouble waiting to happen.

      1. I don’t have a problem with airlines telling people that they should pay extra to be guaranteed adjacent seat assignments.

        Another way to handle it would be to waive the fee for families with children.

  5. What they really should do is put 737-width seats in the A320 and advertise added aisle width. Everyone is complaining about how boarding is slow and when some Mr. Clueless tries to shove a steamer trunk in the overhead and doesn’t let anyone else pass. Wider aisles would mean that others could at least pass him.
    The decrease in turnaround time and slight weight savings would probably be more attractive to airlines than a few wider seats.

  6. Being some what broad abeam, I appreciate the extra space. I “fit” in a 17″ seat, but it’s not real comfortable. I tend to prefer A320 and DC-9 / MD-80 series aircraft over the 737 because the seats tend to be more comfortable in my experience. But much of this is about the seat, not the aircraft.

    I think I read somewhere that US Airway’s newer A321s have slightly wider seats than its older A320 series aircraft. If that’s true, it’s something US could tout. Given a choice, I’ll take a slightly wider seat over a bit more pitch.

  7. I think most airlines would be reluctant to do this because it could increase maintenance costs. Southwest is famous for only flying 737s for standardization. Imagine airlines with 320s not only having to buy 320 regular seats, but also 320 expanded seats. –That said I wouldn’t mind a wider middle seat.

    1. Chicago Chris – I wonder how many of the parts could be compatible in something like this. I mean, you’d have a wider seat but really that would just mean more leather (or cloth for the old school folks). It seems to me that there would be enough duplication that this wouldn’t be horribly painful. Of course, I say this if your fleet is entirely full of this configuration.

      1. The seat cushions (which can be used as a flotation device — unless you’re on VX) become different too, since the extra width seat needs a wider cushion.

        And are the port and starboard side seat sets currently interchangeable? If they are, they suddenly become non-interchangable if you make the aisle seats wider. One way to solve this problem though would be to make the aisle seats wider on one side and the window seat wider on the other, which not only gives window seat fans the opportunity to buy a wider seat, but also creates the option of an aisle seat that doesn’t have an extra charge.

        Making the middle seat the wider one, as Bombardier proposed for the C-Series, also solves the potential interchangeability problem, but I’m not sure how that gets monetized. Sure it’s wider, but will people really pay extra for a middle seat just because it’s wider. I view a wider middle seat more as a consolation prize for those who get stuck in the middle seat.

        1. The port/starboard seats are not and would not be interchangeable in any case. The attachment points to the seat rails would be different. The seat pans, frames and back panels would also be different for the wider/narrower seats, which would be the biggest cost drivers. The seat cushions are a minor expense item. Seats cost thousands of dollars each and the expense would be enormous to retrofit a fleet. No airline would do that unless it generated revenue.

  8. So, if I choose the middle or window seat, since I just lost and inch of space–without a choice–does that mean I’ll now pay LESS? Yeah, right! That’ll happen!!

  9. Where does Airbus come into the picture here? Wouldn’t this be entirely between the various seat manufacturers and the airlines?

    1. Seems like they are pointing out that the wider width of the Airbus planes gives airlines another seating option they could use to potentially differentiate their service from others whereas that option does not exist on Boeing planes.

    2. Oliver – Airbus and Boeing like to come up with ideas, reasons to buy their products. But yes, the ultimate seat sale would be between the airline and the seat manufacturer. Airbus is more of an intermediary here.

    3. Airplance manufacturers, seat manufacturers, and airlines all have teams who are supposed to come up with these designs. For Airbus it is about finding out what their customer wants, and helping them get it. By doing this, they drive sales. Ultimately, it is a decision for the seat manufacturers and the airlines, but given how planes are purchased, designed, serviced, and certified, it is a team effort where hopefully everyone wins.

  10. Two words: bigger armrests. For people like me who have proximity issues, it’s not the actual seat width but the amount of space between me and some sweaty long distance mile-hound who’s been shower-free for several days. At least someone is thinking width of some sort though. It’s a start.

  11. I like a wider seat, but mostly I just don’t like having someone overflow into my seat. Not sure an extra inch or two will really fix that problem.

    1. agreed. And worst part of IFE–people in middle seats who cant put things under the seat in front of them from big boxes end up putting their feet or bags in your “footspace”…or use their IFE clicker as a way to take the armrest, or alternatively use the armrest, stopping you from IFE control.

  12. There’s an obvious solution that will nicely reconcile all of the issues with narrow aisles, wide bottoms, separating families, etc.

    Put 3 x narrow 17″ seats on one side of the aisle and put wider seats on the other. Divide up the 3″ gain however you like – 3 x wider seats, 1 x wider middle, wider aisle, whatever.

    As someone who inherited both my father’s short legs and my grandmother’s wide child-bearing hips, I won’t pay for the extra legroom of E+ but would pay for the extra, um, buttroom of “E+: WE.”

  13. A big guy jammed into a narrow seat next to your premium wide seat isn’t going to make you happy. As suggested above, three narrow seat on one side of the aisle and three wider seats on the other side might justify a premium for the bigger seats along with making half the coach section feel angry or discontent.

    1. there may be reasonable concerns, but the FAA has been increasing the average Pax weight used for weight and balance calculations, and new 8 g-force protection requirements in seats that go into effect for all new airplanes. Hence why you are starting to see airbags installed on E+ on some airlines.

  14. Au contraire mon ami. I think this will be a very popular item for the airlines. It allows them to offer a premium product for a modest fee. Exit row and front of cabin seats have been popular on a fee basis. This follows that practice with the promise of more personal space, combine this with early boarding, and a first shot at overhead space, and it’s a winner for business travelers.

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