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Far And Narrow

October 12, 2016

An increasing trend we’ve seen are airlines reconfigurating their long-haul fleets into “high density” aircraft.

These airlines are adding extra seats per row in the economy cabin. That is, converting the Boeing’s 777 series – originally designed for nine-across seating – into sardine-like 10-across.

American and United Airlines have already done this, with Delta Air Lines rumored to be next.

Can we blame Delta when everyone else is doing it?

What do you think of this trend toward narrower seats? Do you  actively avoid 10-across cabins in the B777 and book another airline?

Fifteen years ago, only 5% of B777 deliveries were equipped with 10-across economy. Today over 50% of airlines order the denser option, according to Today in the Sky. Perhaps a few more seats can fit into the the baggage hold as well.

From an airline’s perspective, the rationale is obvious.

Not only does it provide a higher profit margin by lowering its cost per seat mile, but according to the airline, it allows the savings to be put into other benefits for travelers in the form of lower airfares or enhanced services.

Although we have yet to see airfares actually go down after a ‘densification’ – usually it’s the less-dense seats that go up in price.

Airline Pricing, Profitability & Power vs. Safety

Every public building has a maximum capacity limit. There should be regulations on minimum space for passengers for health and safety considerations.
Back in April, FlyersRights asked several seating design exhibitors at the

Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg about restrictions on shrinking seat sizes.  

Not one seat manufacturer acknowledged any official rules or prohibitions against producing tinier seats.

Many passengers tell us they’re concerned about how a 450 seater 10-abreast B777 can pass a 90 second emergency evacuation test.
The airlines like to say an aircrafts’ maximum capacity is based on the ability to safely evacuate, and reducing space in the seat row does not have a negative impact.

Computer Simulated Evacuation Tests

In The 1990s, against the advice of air safety groups like the Aviation Consumer Action Project and the flight attendants union, the FAA began permitting airline manufacturers to use computer simulations. 
This was done after frequent failure of live tests, even when using young, athletic test subjects who were carefully coached and practiced were used.
It is unlikely that any fully occupied airliner could, in real life conditions, satisfy the emergency evacuation regulation requiring all passengers and crew be able to exit within 90 seconds in low light conditions with half the exits disabled. 
This vital safety regulation was issued after studies of air crashes showed that most fatalities were the result of post crash fires and drownings that could be avoided by rapid evacuation.

Paul Hudson

Member, FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee, 

Occupant Safety and Emergency Evacuation Issue Group 
(source: AirlineReporter)

A TAM  (Brazil) Boeing 777-300ER with 10-abreast. The airline business model assumes passengers are willing to make sacrifices for the promise of lower fares.

FlyersRights believes a solution is updating FAA passenger rights regulations to include a seat-space provision for passenger safety, health and comfort.

Just as movie theaters and public spaces have a maximum occupancy based on reality-based evacuation rules -aircraft should have the same.

One of our biggest complaints we hear is that the average person these days has a hard time fitting into their allocated space on a flight -well before the person in front reclines.

Things have gotten out of hand.

In the interim, no airline should qualify for 5-Star status with a 10-across B777 seating configuration.  

Airlines with 777 10-abreast configuration:
Aeroflot, Air Austral, Air Canada, Air France, Air New Zealand, American Airlines, Austrian Airlines, China Airlines, China Eastern, Emirates, Etihad, Jet Airways, KLM, Kuwait Airways, LATAM, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Scoot, TAAG Angola, Qatar Airways, United Airlines, Swissair

Airlines with 777 9-abreast configuration:
Air China, Air India, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Biman Bangladesh, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Ceiba Intercontinental, China Southern, Delta, Egyptair, El Al, Ethiopian Airlines, Eva Air, Garuda Indonesia, Kenya Airways, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Pakistan International, Thai, THY Turkish, Turkmenistan, Vietnam Airlines, Virgin Australia 
(source: AirlineReporter)

Your Letters!

Dear FlyersRights:

This seems to be the premise of; Airlines are big money hungry monopolies, sucking every nickel and dime they can from passengers, while passengers are poor beaten down consumers who must travel under the very worst conditions known to man! And, as you have stated dozens of times in the past, travel by air is not the bargain that airlines make it out to be but is just the opposite! To prove your point you often speak of “upgrades for comfort” and “baggage fees” that are now common place with most airlines. And these fees are not false but are a part of modern airline carriage rules and cost for services.

With regards to your statement concerning the rising cost of other services and goods in our new economy such as movie prices, eating out, owning a home or automobile and, well, the list goes on, we as Americans have to make decisions about our purchases of these items and services. Do we attend a movie when the cost is $12 a seat or do we simply wait until it comes out on DVD or Netflix? Do we decide to spend $100 for a family of four to eat out or do we conserve and do the fast food thing? The point is, we are confronted with these decisions on a daily basis. This is nothing new to the American public in general.
I had an experience just this past week, while flying as a passenger between New York’s JFK and Atlanta Hartsfield, in which a the passenger seated next to me, the isle seat on a B767, was a very tall person. He informed me after this incident that he stood 6′-7″. We were seated in the main cabin in economy class seating so naturally he was a bit cramped in his seat. What happened when the woman sitting in front of him decided to recline her seat? You guessed it, he was literally pinned down at his knees and could not move his legs. After a brief moment he leaned forward and asked the woman if she would mind returning her seat to the upright position, which she did, but at the same time was a little bit embarrassed. Here is the problem with this situation. The female passenger should not have had to return her seat to the forward position. She was looking for more comfort by reclining her seat and she should have been able to do this. The man sitting next to me admitted that he often had, in the past, had this same problem while flying. Knowing this, he should have paid the fee for the extra legroom and comfort he would have received using an upgrade or purchasing a comfort seat, which would have allowed him an extra 3.5 inches on the B767-200.
The cost of flying is still and will remain a good bargain for the flying public. Flying is a choice and the amount of comfort you wish to travel in is also a choice. I realize you will come back with this… “But the mighty airlines are making a killing using add-on fees and charging for every little extra comfort!” Take the following into consideration.
Delta airlines is in the process of replacing some 270 plus aircraft between now and 2019. This includes purchases from Boeing, Airbus, and Bombardier. The estimated cost of these purchases is over $130,000,000 (billion) over a five year period that began in July of 2014. The need to replace old and retired equipment has become a major concern for all airlines. Newer equipment entering service is manufactured to feel roomier and add more comfort using new technology in the passenger cabin. For anyone who has flown in a new Airbus A320-A330 or a Boeing 737-8, they know this to be true. And, yes, while every seat represents revenue for the carrier, competition among manufacturers has yielded a new sales pitch to airlines; comfort!
Bottom line here, we all want to travel in comfort, but in today’s new world of consumer goods and services, air travel, like everything else purchased by consumers, is a purchase choice by each individual consumer. 


Dear CJK:
FlyersRights isn’t advocating for airlines not making money. We’re advocating for a basic level of service once included in the ticket. Prices have eroded over the last few years and the airline product is fast diminishing. 
You cite movie tickets – what if movie theaters charged an additional $3 for buying your ticket at the theater?
If you go to a restaurant, what would your reaction be if they charged extra for a silverware or napkins?
When you say you ‘choose to fly’ – a lot of times you don’t have a choice, it’s a necessity – for business people especially. The US is not Europe – with its big distances and lack of good rail system.

Kendall Creighton


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