Upgauging and Densification

There is a trend in the aviation industry at the moment. How can we get more people on our aircraft?

There are two easy answers to that one, either fitting more people into the same space or having larger aircraft.

We have seen this on long haul – no longer is it all about the legroom, but the seat width. Emirates, really the pioneers of this even with its ‘luxury’ tag started putting 10-abrest on the 777, when most other airlines had settled on 9. A raft of carriers has followed suit including KLM, Air France, American, Air Canada and now Swiss. Other aircraft types are not immune either from the tight space in Economy, with the 787 now seen with common 9 abreast seating, and even the A380 demoed with an astonishing 11 abreast.

This does nothing for the passenger experience, and in some cases the passengers health. It could also explain the upsurge in Premium Economy, giving more legroom and a wider seat, along with more ‘upgraded’ features such as meal and beverage options.

Short haul isn’t immune either, with airlines once again trying to get as many seats onboard an aircraft as possible. The first step we have seen with British Airways and the new Pinnacle seating across the Airbus short haul fleet, bring their aircraft just two rows from a full ‘charter’ configuration. Helped in part by a new thinner and lightweight seat, it has also seen a dramatic decrease in legroom for those passengers in Club Europe, who no have the same as Euro Traveller (economy).

The next step, as announced at the end of the year, is that the smaller A319’s will be slowly phased out in favour of larger A320’s and A321’s, providing more seats on each aircraft. Here we area predominately talking about Heathrow where slots are more difficult to obtain, especially on major trunk routes with multiple rotations. Any extra slot that is suitable for long haul development will be looked at.

The British Airways fleet at Gatwick is really a different animal. Some would say it is the ‘runt’ of the litter, given casts off from the big brother up the road at Heathrow. It has recently taken delivery of the ex-bmi A319’s which don’t have containerised holds for baggage and have a higher density cabin any way, and leased A320’s mainly coming from low-cost airline WizzAir or TAM in Brazil. These are even higher density catering the mainly leisure routes Gatwick caters for, and therefore competing against the likes of easyJet, Norwegian, Monarch and its own sister brand Vueling.

With these new aircraft deliveries, the difference between the IAG airlines will be made even smaller. They will have the same engines and avionics, the cabin will the same – apart from the seats and a few other small changes.

This then brings the question of the ‘Space Flex’ interior. Vueling has already committed to this, and do actually have a couple of aircraft flying the configuration. It is the latest space saving method of getting more seats on the aircraft. It involves moving the toilet at the very back of the aircraft and moving them into the rear bulkhead (where you would currently find a galley – and therefore reducing space for the cabin crew which wont be popular on long flights). If you are going to mix and match the aircraft across the currently four airlines – then you would imagine that British Airways would have the same.


The race to get more seats on the aircraft isn’t just something IAG are doing, it has already been started by the low cost airlines – Ryanair committing to a 200 seat 737-8MAX and easyJet will be getting 186 seat A320’s next year as well, including retrofitting their existing fleet.

We are now in a time of, if you are travelling – be it in Economy or Business, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you are going to be paying for less space. The race to the bottom as really taken hold and is sad that it has gone this far.


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