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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