To mix metaphors Airbus may have opened a pandora’s box of cabin envy between wide boys and girls with money, and broke wide boys, and small people, trapped in small seats, all in the confines of an economy class cabin.

It is proposing that instead of all seats in a six across A320 economy cabin being 18 inches or 45.7 cms wide, as is the case today, the aisle seats should be widened to 20 inches or 50.8 cms, while the window and middle seats would be narrowed to the same miserable 17 inches or 43.2 cms of cushion between the arm rests that it has long derided as inferior in Boeing 737s.

That way airlines could offer a wider seat to one third of their economy customers for extra money of course, while making the other two thirds even more uncomfortable than they are now, and no doubt, for the same money.

Is Airbus joking? No. It’s just an option, and probably less offensive than the argument that fat people should pay more to fly than ‘normal’ people, even though that debate begs the question as to whether people who are not obese are normal these days anyhow.

The idea was given a bit of exposure at an aircraft interiors expo in America some days ago.

It is a new variation on an old idea that from memory both Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific either adopted or seriously contemplated way back in the 90s, which was to make the middle business class seat in a triple set several cms wider than those on either side, and give it a different coloured cover, to compensate those paying for a premium product something to make them feel a bit more special and comfortable while imprisoned between aisle seats.

Then business class moved on, into slopers, followed by sleepers, and the once civilised seating standards in economy began to succumb to cramming, to the point where airlines are adopting premium economy to give back what was taken away, if not even more, in the case of such carriers as Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Virgin Australia to name but three.

Will different cushion widths for different seats in the same cabin catch on? Maybe. Maybe not. Already there is a wide price range in the fare charged for the same economy seat, often from below $100 to almost $400, even on a short flight, so the complication could be that you could end up with people paying a lowest price bargain fare plus a wider seat or aisle surcharge for less in total than the other passengers who booked on a more flexible higher economy fare in the narrow seats.

Imagine for a moment Ryanair’s pay-to-pee CEO Michael O’Reilly rejoicing in wider aisle seat pricing plus free loo tokens to one passenger in three, while the other two thirds get the cheap narrow seats and renal failure. Eek!

By coincidence Bombardier, the Canadian aircraft manufacturer that does battle with ATR and Embraer for the turbo-prop and regional jet markets, is offering the more traditional prospect of a wider middle seat in its new C-series jets.

Bombardier graphic of cabin seating options and dimensions

This is a five across, that is three seats by two seats design, in which the standard economy seats were going to be at least half and inch or 1.25 cms wider than the best Airbus has on offer now, but with an even wider middle seat in the triple unit by way of compensation for what is generally the least popular seat in any airliner.

As well as this diagram from Bombardier shown above, Airline Reporter recently posted its own photos of the interior of the C-series family, which certainly make it look attractive with its large windows, in an article well worth reading for the commentary as well as photos.

But at this stage, there doesn’t seem to be much of a chance for the C-series, which will be available in the next few years, being adopted by the major Australian carriers, which is a pity. It looks good, and much more attractive than the same maker’s Dash 8 turbo-props flown by Qantaslink, or the claustrophobic narrow CRJ jets you may encounter flying abroad, like the CRJ-200s briefly, and ruinously, operated by Kendell for Ansett before its collapse.

Bombardier's C-series, for Australia, you wish!



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