Airbus is planning a “budget economy” section with even narrower seats

Scootch a little closer.
Scootch a little closer.
Image: Reuters/Fabian Bimmer
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Aircraft manufacturer Airbus is planning to roll out planes with even more tightly packed seats, in what it’s billing as a “budget economy” section.

The configuration would put nine slightly smaller seats in a row on the company’s popular A330 plane—in what it is also calling “max abreast” seating. Premium economy would have seven seats across, and today’s economy seats (which Airbus now calls “comfort” economy) would have eight across.

“Around 3 billion economy seats are sold every year,” Airbus spokeswoman Sara Ricci told Quartz. “We think there is room for choice in this market.”

In an interview with the aviation industry site Leeham News and Comment, Airbus marketing head Chris Emerson said the new, tightly-packed seating configuration was designed to appeal to customers—especially in China and southeast Asia—who are inclined to pay a cheaper fare in exchange for less in-flight real estate.

“They are completely agnostic to comfort,” he said. Much of the growth in the airline industry is expected to come from budget Asian airlines, although US airlines are also rumored to be considering “economy minus” seating configurations.

Airbus and its chief rival Boeing have often sparred over whose planes packs in passengers more tightly. Airbus has accused Boeing of cramming in 17-inch-wide (43-centimeter) seats that fall short of its own 18-inch standard (a claim Boeing denies). But “budget economy” seats could fall short of Airbus’ own professed standard.

For example, here’s the layout of various configurations of the Airbus A330-220 plane with seven, eight, and nine passengers in a row. The “high efficiency,” nine passenger-abreast layout has seats that are only 16.7 inches wide.

Image for article titled Airbus is planning a “budget economy” section with even narrower seats
Image: Airbus

Airbus’ massive A380 jet would still have a 18-inch-wide seats in the budget economy configuration, the company said.

“When you get up to 18 inches, you are barely touching shoulder-to-shoulder,” Emerson told Leeham News. “Anything under you are touching.”

And hey—at least it beats standing.