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Boeing’s 200 seat 737-8 gives new meaning to MAX

Virgin Australia wouldn't put 200 seats in its 738 MAX. Would it? Boeing graphic

When Boeing called its new engine technology version of the 737 family the MAX series they weren’t kidding.

On the first day of the Farnborough Air Show they have announced a 200 seat version of the 737-8 MAX, the model which until now maxed out at 189 seats, just like today’s equivalent model the 737-800, widely flown here by Qantas and Virgin Australia.

This is a response to Airbus previously offering an 189 seat version of the until now 180 seat max version of the A320. A pattern is emerging, and it’s not good news for anyone of normal stature, or even small stature, if they happen to find themselves on such a jet trapped in the middle between two larger passengers, or otherwise pinned to the window or pushed into the aisle.

Why are Airbus and Boeing doing this? Do they really hate us? Well, No, they don’t hate us, but the name of the game is to claim lowest possible direct operating costs.

The way airline makers now do this is to try and arrive a figures where the cabin space is divided by the highest possible number of seats, so that aircraft A ends up either 0.01 percent cheaper, or more costly, to operate on a per passenger comparison than aircraft B.

Its the same game that makes a 440 seat A330-300 more cost efficient than a 360 seat 777 with the original spacious seating that is rapidly being replaced by smaller seats, and in fact, can be replaced with an incredible 540 or so seats by the big Boeing twin engined jet.

It is ludicrous, but for the time being it seems that sales contracts will be won by the maker with the cruelest metrics, and to hell with the inevitable consumer crisis that arises when jets are delayed at the gate because all the people too large to be seated and buckled up have to be removed before they can take off.

Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes president and CEO Ray Conner was clearly in good form when he approved a media release which quoted him as saying “This new 200-seat 737 MAX 8 ensures we’ll retain our leadership in comfort, capacity and lower operating costs in the heart of the single-aisle market.”

Comfort! Mr Conner has a good story to tell, but it ain’t about comfort leadership.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary is reported as being keen to buy some of these 200 seaters, except that he will cap them at 199 seats to avoid then eed for a fourth flight attendant as required by the safety rules.

The main way Boeing gets 11 more seats into the 737-8 MAX (will it be called MAXX, or SuperMAX?) is to make the seat rows five cms closer to each other. You can almost hear the bone and ligament damage.

However it has to be acknowledged that tight pack seating is more environmentally friendly, in that the net share of fossil carbon emissions per passenger will fall, because per flight, total carbon emissions will be divided by more people. It will be like driving around in a compact car with five less than compact passengers on board. The fuel economy will be terrific, but hold the baked beans at breakfast.

It also matches the demand for cheap air travel no matter how uncomfortable it has become.

Boeing, like its competitor, has heard what the market wants. And it wants us to suffer.

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  • 1
    fabio1
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    There must come a time where a minimum seat pitch and width has to be legally enforced. Just as there are standards for every other aspect of flying.

    It must become a safety issue as the pitch would end up being 26cm’s

  • 2
    Confirmed Sceptic
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I would like to see the cabin crew minimum number stay at 1:50 for a certain seat density equating to about a 34″ seat pitch, falling from there to 1:35 for the typical LCC seat density. Every door is going to have a higher burden of evacuees so it only makes sense to try to assure that every available door will be opened.

    I am stuck in a world of munchkins-ever more so, and the airlines seem more than willing to pretend that a 5/8 scale seat is adequate for a full scale human. I am so happy to have an aeroplane master key so that I can just steal a Gulfstream whenever I want one. God help the rest of you though.

  • 3
    The Lens
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    In late 1989, my wife and I flew in a DC8 operated by Faucett Perú. The seating pitch was that tight that I had to sit with my knees together and rotated to one side. It was scary.

    Thread drift:

    Also a little scary was the in-flight return half-way from Lima to Arequipa. I couldn’t understand Spanish but my Sth. Amer. born wife explained that an engine oil related issue was the cause.

    We landed and at the far end of the runway, round-about where the piano keys are, rolled to a stop…in silence. We waited, in silence, broken here and there by childeren crying, and about an eternity later a tug came, hooked up and towed us to the terminal.

    My wife and I were pretty much the last to disembark, as the vast majority of ashen-faced passengers bolted for the terminal’s lavatories. I saw the captain disembark and seized the moment to get a photo of him and my wife together…. She reckoned that he looked a little dazed…. probably because of some gringo telling him what a great landing it was….under the circumstances.

    Our replacement flight was in another DC8, whose seat pitch was the same, but with an additional feature of cabin ‘privacy windows’: they were so crazed and sand-blasted that they could easily have fitted into lavatory cubicle locations. There was one reassuring feature: a one-inch band of clarity around the periphery where, once one canted one’s head close to 90 deg vertical, the outer pane’s etched-in part-number and ’1967′ were clearly discernible.

    Tight seat pitch: Dangerous!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faucett_Per%C3%BA

  • 4
    FlyLo
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Ben,

    I’m not sure what you are getting at with your comment:

    “Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary is reported as being keen to buy some of these 200 seaters, except that he will cap them at 199 seats to avoid the need for a fourth flight attendant as required by the safety rules.”

    My understanding and experience is that Ryanair already operates all 300 of its 189 seat Boeing 737-800 flights with four flight attendants.

    Boeing knows the FAA regulations (and the equivalent European regulations) require the following:

    “For airplanes having a seating capacity of more than 100 passengers – two flight attendants plus one additional flight attendant for each unit (or part of a unit) of 50 passenger seats above a seating capacity of 100 passengers.”

    An aircraft configured with anywhere between 151 seats and 200 seats will require four flight attendants. Anything over 200 seats will require five.

    So the minimum number of flight attendants required under the FAA regulations (and European equivalent) would remain at four on a 737-8 MAX whether it was configured for 189, 199 or 200 seats.

  • 5
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted July 15, 2014 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    FlyLo,

    Appreciate your knowledge on this. But I wasn’t commenting, I was referring to a European report, and as you make clear, and for which I’m sure we are grateful, wasn’t one that was accurate as to the rules.

  • 6
    Rufus
    Posted July 17, 2014 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    The airlines are merely giving the flying public what it wants. Sure, no one wants to be cramped, but the success of discount airlines (and even those supposed full-service airlines which fly their 777s or 787s with an additional seat in each row) shows that price, marketing and a wholehost of other factors will win over space. American Airlines tried a “more legroom in coach” campaign and realised it wasnt able to command the fare premium to justify the extra cost – most people would prefer to whinge about legroom than to pay extra to enjoy more.

  • 7
    fractious
    Posted July 17, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Here’s an idea – why don’t we get “Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes president and CEO Ray Conner” to sit (if ‘sit’ is the word I’m after) in one of these “seats” along with 199 others for ooh… let’s say 4 hours. Then do it again 6 hours after for the return leg (if he can feel his leg at all).

    Then get him to do it again 3 days later, *and* pay for the “privilege” out of his own pocket.

    Then let’s see how willing he is to stand by his “leadership in comfort” bullshit.

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