April 17, 2015

Health & Safety concerns raised over increase numbers in airline seat configurations

In a week when Airbus has just announced a new 11 seat-per-row reconfiguration for its A380 superjumbo in Hamburg, Germany, concerns are growing at the current trends of reducing seat size to increase passenger numbers. This is being carried out in an attempt to offset the current effects of lowering prices for flights. However it is coming at a cost, and not just passenger comfort. There was a time when it was accepted that for local domestic and short-haul flights, passengers were prepared to sacrifice comfort for a few hours in return for a cheap flight, as witnessed by airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet.
However these smaller seats are now being rolled out across long-haul flights in economy classes, and this has already seen an increase in incidents of ‘flight rage’, usually resulting from a lack of legroom compounded by reclining seats in front of you. As an example, the new seats in the A380 are increasing capacity to 540 passengers, up from 525. Health & safety regulations regarding passenger numbers regulate capacity through speed of evacuation during an emergency. Airlines are coping with this regulation by increasing and resiting the number of escape hatches to conform, however other concerns have been raised relating to the difficulty in providing medical aid to any passenger in distress. The Director of Facilities at low-cost carrier Allegiant, Keith Hansen, has indicated he does not think higher seat density increases risks during an evacuation. “We don’t believe there’s any increased safety risk whatsoever in an emergency evacuation… These aircraft are all approved and certified by the FAA,” he said.
What is interesting though, is that part of the problem for passengers is as much psychological as it is physical. Back in the 1990s, the average seat width was 18.5”, so the Airbus A380’s 17.8” width is not a huge change. Perhaps the plane with the narrowest long-haul seat pitch is the Boeing 777, popular with United and American Airlines at 27”. Leg room has not shrunk on a number of airlines’ configurations as back in 2003 certain Airbus configurations were offering a seat pitch (legroom) of 32”, while, as an example, todays’ Air Canada A320 offers between 31” and 35” for seat pitch. However ‘cramming’ passengers 11 in a row and row after row occupying a nominal space, creates a greater impression of lack of room, leading to a greater sense of discomfort.
However Spirit’s Airbus A320 economy class seat configuration offers just 28” of legroom and EASA have just offered Type Certificate for a 27” pitch seat for the Airbus A320, enabling capacity to increase to 195 passengers from the current 180. In a move to distract passengers from their more cramped surroundings, seat manufacturers and airlines are now offering more ‘gimmicks’ with these cramped configurations, including USB connections and individual power outlets. Recaro have just unveiled their new economy seat at this week’s aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg which has both a 33cm Panasonic monitor and mood lighting.
“If you’re a dog, you have very specific rules, but if you’re a human being there are no specific rules as to what is humane,”, Travelers United’s Charlie Leocha told a US government advisory committee investigating these trends in Washington.



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