As Airline Reporter well details, Japan Airlines has bucked the trend to hurting and crushing economy class passengers into ever tinier seats by revealing a 777-200ER revamp which doesn’t just retain the Boeing’s classic and roomier nine across economy cabin, but adds enhanced legroom.

What competing airlines might do about this this move isn’t yet known, but in a rational market consumers will be attracted to something that offers more amenity for a competitive price.

And Japan Airlines has always been keen to keep in touch with, if not undercut, the best deals in the markets it serves, including times past when it almost always cost less for a longer flight from Australia to the US or Europe via Tokyo than it did on the more direct full service, full fare carriers.

Perhaps we should feel more relieved than surprised, since JL’s 787s also deliver in their latest configurations on the Dreamliner’s original and supremely comfortable eight across Y class format, just as Boeing intended.

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The more subtle maths used by Japan Airlines to justify a roomier 777 with a lower seat count than those with tight pack seats probably goes like this.

A competitor with a ten across economy cabin might carry, say 30-45 more seats, than the Japanese carrier if they were to retain a similar proportion of premium to Y class seats.  But if it doesn’t sell those seats, they are costing a little bit more in fuel over longer distances, and may require the employment of at least one more cabin attendant to meet the rules on manning levels which are based on numbers of seats, not load factors.

Multiplied by hundreds of flights a year, those additional costs become substantial.

The inferior seat experience will likely aggravate enough customers stuffed into the small seats to make them vow never to fly with the offending carrier again. And tell their friends about it too.

It should be acknowledged that when Virgin Australia recently began upgrading its boutique fleet of five 777-300ERs it also retained the nine across Y class cabin. That was arguably an essential move considering these Virgin jets are mainly up against Qantas A380s, which also have wider Y class seats than anyone will ever experience in the bigger Australian carrier’s 787s when they start to enter service toward the end of next year.

Japan Airlines’ revised 777s and its comfortable 787s are almost certain to engage in direct competition with tighter fit Qantas and Air NZ airliners (and indeed be a QF codeshare on some flights).

Australians and New Zealanders are generally large framed people served by carriers that mostly want to stuff us into narrower seats. It’s notable that the alternative to this on some routes will be a Japanese carrier with a formidable reputation for high service standards, and roomier seats.

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