De gemiddelde economystoel heeft niet alleen minder beenruimte dan een paar jaar geleden, veel stoelen zijn ook smaller geworden. Vijf manieren waarop luchtvaartmaatschappijen het aantal passagiers per vliegtuig drastisch hebben weten te verhogen.
It’s official: airline passengers really do hate coach seats. One recent poll showed U.S. fliers are the unhappiest in the world, and tight seating is one reason why. Spirit Airlines, in typical outlier fashion, released its “state of hate” report in an attempt to prove it’s not the only airline that fliers detest; among the findings is that travelers are most upset about seating, with rival Southwest getting the worst marks in that department. And one major U.S. airline is reportedly considering a version of cattle class with even tighter seating than in standard coach, in what it jokingly (we hope) dubs “economy minus.”
No one expects luxury in coach, so why all the griping now? Because, as you’ve likely suspected, your sliver of airborne real estate really is getting smaller—in part due to advances in seat design that have led to high-density layouts. Of course, seats vary by airline; here, some trends to watch for as you book your next flight:
1. Slimming Down
“If you see pictures of a coach cabin from 20 or so years ago, it looks like passengers were sitting in a Barcaloungers—the seats had so much more padding,” says Jami Counter, Senior Director of TripAdvisor Flights (parent of seatguru.com). Today’s skinnier seats use lighter composite materials for the frame and need less padding, which frees up more space, for—you guessed it—more seats.
The so-called slim-line seats are a fairly large category, Counter points out, and not all of them are the torture devices of popular imagination. Some may be fairly comfortable; others may feel as stiff as a church pew. But TripAdvisor’s own surveys have shown that a majority of passengers think they are less comfortable than the older models; Southwest’s new “Evolve” seats, for example, have gotten complaints from passengers, according to seatguru.com.
2. Tighter Quarters
Airlines have a lot of leeway in how they configure cabin interiors, and “some have been taking a fairly aggressive approach as far as shoving as many seats in there as possible,” says Counter. Take United’s 737-800s: they now fit 166 people in a space once designed for 152. The new version features 16 first-class and 150 coach seats; 54 of them are in roomier economy plus rows, while 96 have the budget-style 30-inch seat pitch.
But United, Southwest and other airlines that are championing this approach say that fliers really shouldn’t notice much of a change from the once-standard 32-inch coach pitch, because of the added space carved out thanks to the slim-line design.
3. And Then There Were Ten
As airlines take delivery of new wide-body aircraft, some are using this opportunity to fill them with seats that are not just slimmer but narrower as well. On the Boeing 777, a workhorse of long-distance international flights, a number of airlines have gone to 10-across seating in their coach sections, up from the typical nine-across layouts.
Seats in the higher density rows—now appearing on flights at American, Air France, Emirates and others—are just 17 inches wide, versus as much as 18.5 inches in the roomier configuration. Some airlines, such as Delta, Lufthansa and United, have resisted the trend so far; after all, an inch or two can spell the difference between comfort and misery on a long flight.
4. An Exit Strategy
When Boeing came out with its new 737 Max 200 model this year, it came with a unusual design feature: an extra emergency exit, which gives airlines the green light to jam in more seats. (Safety regulations require airlines to have a specific number of exits per passenger—until now, that was one of the few barriers keeping the seat crunch in check).
This will allow airlines like Ryanair, the launch customer, to add a couple of rows of seats, so that the same plane that once held around 180 people can now hold nearly 200—the maximum capacity for this new variant of the narrow-body plane.
5. Splitting the Difference
There is a bit of good news in all this: According to Counter, some airlines are giving the space bonus from those slimmer seats back to the customer. For example, some airlines are moving the seatback pocket to above the tray table, carving out some additional knee room. Lufthansa and JetBlue have both implemented this change with economy seats, and American has a new seat design that might actually cut down on sales of the Knee Defender: it slides forward in the recline position so that it gives a bit more space than it would otherwise to the passenger directly behind.