Airbus has called on the airline industry to set a minimum standard seat width for long-haul economy class travel.
Following research conducted by UK-based medical practice, The London Sleep Centre, the European planemaker has said that seats should be at least 18 inches (45.72cm) wide for long-haul travel.
According to tests recording passengers’ sleep patterns, which monitored brainwaves, eye, abdominal, chest and hip leg movements, a seat width of 18 inches was found to improve passenger sleep quality by 53% compared to 17-inch seats.
“The difference was significant,” explained Dr Irshaad Ebrahim of The London Sleep Centre. “All passengers experienced a deeper, less disturbed and longer night’s sleep in the 18-inch seat. They went from one sleep stage to the next as you would expect them to do under normal circumstances. Whilst in the narrower 17-inch seat the passengers were affected by numerous disturbances during sleep – which meant they rarely experienced deep restorative sleep. When it comes to flying long-haul in economy, an inch makes a huge difference on passenger comfort.”
A seat width of 17 inches was the standard economy class measurement in the 1950s, but Airbus noted that air transport has changed significantly over the last 50 years. There are more passengers, flying further for longer distances. In the last five years alone the number of flights over 6,000 nautical miles (11,112km), or 13 hours flight time, has increased by 70%, from 24 to 41 daily flights.
In the next 15 years passenger traffic will double and by 2032 the world’s airlines will take delivery of more than 29,220 new aircraft.
“If the aviation industry doesn’t take a stand right now then we risk jeopardising passenger comfort into 2045 and beyond – especially if you take into account aircraft delivery timetables combined with expected years in service. Which means another generation of passengers will be consigned to seats which are based on outdated standards,” said Kevin Keniston, Airbus’ head of passenger comfort.
Airbus already has a standard seat width of 18 inches in its long-haul economy class cabins, but it accused other manufacturers of “eroding passenger comfort standards… in order to remain competitive”.
“Our research reveals that not only does seat width make a dramatic impact on passenger comfort but there is now a growing cohort of discerning economy passengers who are not prepared to accept long haul 17-inch ‘crusher’ seats and instead will choose airlines that offer better seat comfort,” said Keniston. “Thankfully passengers these days have a choice and they are choosing to put comfort first. We are encouraging them to be aware of the difference an inch makes in long haul economy.”