Boeing’s approach in creating the passenger experience

Passenger experience continues to become more and more of a focus for the Original Equipment Manufacturers, who try to create an atmosphere that’s appealing even as airlines cram more and more seats into airplanes to gain revenue in an environment where ancillary fees often mean the difference between profit and loss.

Cabin ambiance for mainline, and especially intercontinental, jets is a battle that hasn’t gotten much attention until the advent of the Boeing 787. The creation of the Boeing 747, of course, provided unprecedented space and ambiance and the “wide-body” was followed quickly by the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed L-1011. Creating the wide-body look for the single aisle airplanes followed, with improvements subsequently in overhead bins and the look of the ceiling. But it wasn’t until the 787 that there was a dramatic change in the cabin interior look and feel. Boeing expanded this look to the 747-8 and the 737.

Airbus, on the other hand, has largely stayed with functionality over pizzazz. The interiors are pleasant, becoming equipped with softer lighting vs the harsh fluorescent bulbs and some mood lighting here and there, but by and large, the interiors are…functional. There’s no “wow” factor. Boeing’s 737 Sky Interior borrows heavily from the 787. Airbus’ A320 interior was last updated in 2007 and–publicly, at least–officials say they don’t plan to update the interior on the A320neo due to enter service in 2015. Mary Kirby of Runway Girl Network reported in December that Airbus is, in fact, planning an update but Airbus as yet denies it. Kirby’s story is behind her paywall.

Customers report that Airbus salesman say a new interior isn’t needed–the airplane is selling just fine with the current one, thank you very much. But Delta Air Lines became a customer for Zodiac’s new A320 ISIS interior that is a step beyond the 2007 Airbus OEM version. A video of Zodiac’s A320 ISIS may be found here.

Boeing 737 Sky Interior. Boeing photo.

Airbus A320 interior. Airbus photo.

Boeing, at press briefings last year in advance of the Paris Air Show, expressed through three speakers the increasing emphasis on designing cabins that increase the passenger experience and which will further enable airlines to get more revenues through fees. Mike Bair, now retired but at the time heading up future airplane programs, declared that the interior for the 777X would be the next generation and that the 787’s ground-breaking interior would be “obsolete” by then.

In an interview this week with Boeing, Blake Emery, director of differentiation strategy for Boeing, said that Bair’s characterization of the 787 interior “is absolutely not accurate. Mike got a rash of you-know-what” after that. “In working with potential customers on 777X it’s become abundantly clear that by the time the  777X is in service, 787 will have been in service quite some time. We raised the bar with 787 Sky Interior. The customers said, ‘do it again. That was so cool.'”

Boeing 787 interior for launch customer ANA. Boeing photo.

Airbus A350 XWB interior. Airbus photo.

“We’ve got something that isn’t going to obsolete itself,” says Kent Craver, director of cabin experience and revenue analysis. “It really gets to the core human experience. Yeah, it looks cool,” he says of the 787 and 787-inspired interiors, “but it’s not just looking cool. It’s part of the key experience. You have to understand the research and background. Competitors will try to copy it and they’ve tried but have fallen short. A supplier [it’s Zodiac—Editor] has a retrofit and it’s similar, but it isn’t the same. It’s all of the research we’ve done that they can’t understand the background.”

Boeing has a small interior mock up it used in the early days of creating what was then known as the 7E7, later renamed the 787, that people went through in sort of a focus group setting. Called the Passenger Experience Research Center, or PERC, we were among those “PERCed” at the Museum of Flight in 2003 or 2004. It’s now permanently located at the Future of Flight Museum, where tours begin for Boeing’s massive Everett (WA) plant.

“It’s one of the elements of total research process,” Emery explains. “PERC is not where we get at underlying psychological research needs. PERCs validate and vet ‘this is a cool idea.’ If [the idea is cool], we work like crazy to get this feature on the airplane. PERC is empirical, validating research to see if we can get statistically valid research to that feature. The next research step is in-flight once the airplane is in service to see if we’re on target.”

Surveys, per se, aren’t especially useful, Boeing says.

“If you do a regular focus group or a survey with flying public in economy class, you don’t get anything new,” Emery says. “If you ask anyone in economy class, you always get the same thing. You want more legroom. If you are going to differentiate your product, you can’t do that.

“There are basic human needs. You feel violated if you are put into the space the airline gives you. None of the rational needs goes to the deeper human needs.”

Craver notes that many cabin choices are elements over which OEMs have no control: seat pitch, seats, WI-FI or in-flight entertainment systems, for example.

“As an OEM we don’t have control over that. Ultimately we want the experience on our airplane to always be better than on a competitor,” Craver says. “We’re trying to raise the bar on the starting point. The things we’re trying to bring to the table,” regardless of whether the airline is a full-service or low cost carrier and regardless of the class of service, help create passenger experience.

Airbus currently is engaged in a public relations and advertising campaign promoting its nine abreast A330/A350 18-inch wide seat as superior over Boeing’s economy class seats 17.2 inches in the 10-abreast 777 or the nine abreast 787. Setting aside the less obvious motive that Boeing’s airplanes get better seat-mile economics with the crammed configuration than do the more spacious Airbus seating arrangements, airlines have demonstrated they don’t really care all that much about passenger comfort in economy.

“We originally envisioned the 787 would be eight across and market quickly told us it’s a nine abreast airplane, just as market said 777 is now 10 abreast,” says Craver. “We do try to understand what drives passengers to airplane; it goes to cross section and the trade is economics.” Boeing could easily design a plane with a wider cross section, as Airbus did with the A320 and the A350 XWB (vs the 787, though narrower than the 777), but Craver noted that this increases the “wetted” area (and drag), which hurts economics without necessarily increasing revenue.

Airbus used some surveys to boost its campaign for 18-inch seats. Emery dismisses their validity.

“You can’t be fooled by research. Checking a list on a survey is different from actually being willing to pay for wider seats, more legroom, etc.” More valid, he says, is to ask, “How much would you like to have this experience again? Would you do this again? Or would you avoid it?”

Craver noted that about a decade ago, American Airlines added legroom throughout coach and “failed miserably.” United Airlines, on the other hand, added Premium Economy years ago, recognizing that there is a segment of the passenger public that will pay some additional for more legroom, but retaining the cramped seat pitch in the process in the economy cabin. Other airlines followed UAL’s approach, including American.

Boeing’s research has evolved. Craver says that “the validation survey tool we use was developed over 2 ½ years to ensure the questionnaire gets at the heart: feelings on an emotional level, a physical level, perception of cabin attributes, perception of other things in general to things we don’t change, such as cabin service, which has a halo impact.”

Surveys can reveal contradictory results. Craver recounts the introduction of the 747 in 1970. Passengers loved the spaciousness of the main desk, he said. On the other hand, passengers like the intimacy of the upper deck, too.

“As much as you would like in an in-flight survey, you’d love to know [why people respond as they do], you can’t with a survey,” says Emery. “You can only do that in a setting where you manipulate a variable. For example, there is the ability to control the amount of daylight in the cabin. The 787 beats every other airplane. We infer this must be because of the dimmable window.”

98 Comments on “Boeing’s approach in creating the passenger experience

  1. In case of a heavy turbulence the “paperclip” armrest could became a deadly weapon, when people get trapped inside the bow!

  2. Like many offered ideas about new seating concepts the paperclip armrest looks intriguing. Will it pass muster at certification time?
    I seem to remember seeing some other designs for “height staggered” seating?

  3. Having experienced the B-737 sky interior and the A-320 interior, I think the B-737 has a better and more comfortable interior.

  4. “Setting aside the less obvious motive that Boeing’s airplanes get better seat-mile economics with the crammed configuration than do the more spacious Airbus seating arrangements, airlines have demonstrated they don’t really care all that much about passenger comfort in economy.”

    Who says the airlines don’t care? Boeing? For Boeing it is vital to convince the world 17 inch seats are just fine & the way of the future. They have no alternative & please don’t read the trip reports / passenger appreciation. Results are “mixed”.. “Surveys can reveal contradictory results.”
    -> If you can’t convince them, confuse them.-

    “Cabin ambiance for mainline, and especially intercontinental, jets is a battle that hasn’t gotten much attention until the advent of the Boeing 787. ” “Airbus, on the other hand, has largely stayed with functionality over pizzazz. ”

    I think the writer purposely skipped a chapter here.;_ylt=A0LEV2EaCWpTz2kA1LtXNyoA?p=A380+first+class&fr=yfp-t-300&fr2=piv-web

    • “Cabin ambiance”?
      The most interesting part of any aircraft interior is the seat, a reading lamp and a working air condition. The next interesting part is the back of the seat in front of me with or without entertainment system. I don’t bother about in how many colors the lighting of the ceiling works or how the overhead bins are curved as long as they accept enough luggage.

      Most of the time I put in my ear plugs and start sleeping before take off. This is directly related to the seat. Therefore the most important part for me of “cabin ambiance” is the seat.

    • Funny that the only thing pax want, more room, is irrelevant. It’s the only thing any of us care about! I have posted before my belief that the raising middle class in developing countries might not be so eager to take cheapest flights only once they have a few more dollars in their pockets, but you can forget about them paying for premium economy, so I guess after 2020 they will head for airlines offering 18″ wide seats or 34″ pitch. If they don’t we will soon all be flying on 415 seat A330s and 440? seat A350s, nothing can beat that for seat mile costs.

      Interestingly Lufthansa and British Airways, both companies which avoided the 777 ten wide and other extra crammed seating arrangements, and have a lot of old 744s, as well as uneconomical 748s and A340s, are both profitable, while AF has just struggled into profit, after years of loss, despite crammed 475? seat 77Ws and very tight short haul seats. Ben Sandilands put it nicely, take the train rather than AF short haul, and I guess most Frenchmen do.

    • The difference in width between 17.2 and 18 is about the width of my thumb. Do you really think people are going to pay more, or fly at an inconvenient time for such a minuscule difference? I have yet to see anyone ever get excited over an extra thumb width of space.

      • Don’t tell my father that, he is a bit wide and prefers to fly EasyJet in Europe for that 0.8 inches. Bad luck BA/AF

        • He better not ever fly KLM with its 17 inch seats!

        • What he says about AF/KLM short haul can’t be printed.

  5. Currently on an Australian assignment I have been required to transit the Brisbane Cairns route three times weekly for the last the last two weeks sadly again in economy, courtesy of Virgin Australia’s 737’s, my now knowledgable long suffering view is the VA seat & the fact the seats lack IFE are the only 737 advantages.

    Casting aside absurd marketing of Mood Lighting & Sky Interiors in all other respects it’s advantage A320 with it’s quieter & more spacious cabin & marginally wider seat.

    Peering through my cabin windows on departures & arrivals my heart goes out to VA baggage handlers as they struggle with the archaic 737 loading/unloading procedure via belts onto numerous luggage trolleys audibly banging & crashing around the hold as they struggle complete their task complete with hard hats, industrial knee & elbow protectors, a system which is neither efficient or cutting edge.

  6. I would not be surprised to see Emirates outdoing Etihad in first class. One possibility could be two ‘residence’ type private cabins in the front and 4 private ‘apartments’ featuring a separate seat, bed and bathroom. That would reduce first class capacity on their A380s from 12 to 8, but as EK is continually increasing A380 flight frequencies so 8 seats should be enough anyway.

    Now, if this is going to be the new first class standard, how can anyone compete with EK in first class without having A380s themselves?

    Is this why EK has not yet firmed their 777X orders. Perhaps they want many more A380s instead, featuring a knockout first class and a superb business class as well.

    Apparently, Dubai wants to become the most visited city on the planet. If EK and Dubai wants to attract many more travellers, IMO they should increase comfort in economy class as well. How could they do that? By raising the floor on the main deck, increasing seat width to 19 inches and seat pitch to 34/35 inches and asking Airbus to launch an A380-900neo that would have world beating comforts and economics in all classes. Something that is simply not possible with the triple seven.

  7. I am not into any A vs. B BS but from the pics it seems that the A320 is clearly roomier than the B737.

    Anyway this all ‘cabine ambiance’ trend is just a distracter to the only two factor that really matter to most of the travellers in economy: seat width & pitch.
    And none of these are good sellers for economics calculations, unfortunatly.

    • There is ‘seat width’ and there is ‘seat pitch’ … but there is also ‘seat EMF’, a measure of the level of promiscuity attached to any given seat, expanded to ‘row EMF’ for a given seating configuration. E.g., the ‘Excuse-Me Factor’ of the standard [3+3] configuraton (A320/737 series) reaches a horrendous 6 per row, adding to the general impression of promiscuity. Then you have an elbow jostling parameter = aisle pax density at stand-up, a cause of angst/agoraphobia, plus of aisle jamming, resented as antagonistic to freedom/well-being on most APEX accounts, because it slows down boarding/deplaning … these few elements to underscore there is more to passenger perception of ‘well-being’ than cabin lighting/colour schemes/material touch to the fingertip, although cabin design aesthetics do set an overall impression.

    • CBL, the A320 is SLIGHTLY roomier than the 737, not “clearly”. The 737 is widest at window height. The A320 is widest at the cabin floor. That’s the source of the statement that “the A320 is 6 inches wider than the 737”.

      When both cabins are measured at window height, the A320 is only 3.3 inches wider than a 737. At the windows, the A320 sidewall slopes inward; the 737’s sidewall is more vertical. The 737’s cabin is a few inches taller than the A320 in the center aisle.

      It’s a difference in cross-section design. Ever since the 707, Boeing has used a double-bubble cross section, with one radius for the cabin and another for the lower lobe; the two circles intersect at the cabin floor. The cabin’s max width is at the window belt. Until the A380, Airbus has used a circular cross section. It is structurally simpler but the max width is at or near the cabin floor

    • “CBL, the A320 is SLIGHTLY roomier than the 737, not “clearly”. The 737 is widest at window height. The A320 is widest at the cabin floor.”

      That’s not correct!

      The A320’s maximum internal width is 144.88″ (i.e. 3.68 m) at the aircraft datum level of 19.29″ (0.49 m) above the floor.

      (Section 2-5-0 — Page 2):

      The 737’s maximum internal width is 139.2″ (i.e. 3.54 m) some 30 inches above the floor.

      (Page 67):

      “When both cabins are measured at window height, the A320 is only 3.3 inches wider than a 737. At the windows, the A320 sidewall slopes inward; the 737′s sidewall is more vertical. The 737′s cabin is a few inches taller than the A320 in the center aisle.”

      Again, that’s not correct!

      It’s 87″ on the A320 and 86.6″ on the 737.

      “It’s a difference in cross-section design. Ever since the 707, Boeing has used a double-bubble cross section, with one radius for the cabin and another for the lower lobe; the two circles intersect at the cabin floor. The cabin’s max width is at the window belt. Until the A380, Airbus has used a circular cross section. It is structurally simpler but the max width is at or near the cabin floor.”

      Again, that’s not correct!

      The A320 does not have a circular cross section. It has an overall external width of 155.5 inches (i.e. 3.95 m) and a height of 163 inches (i.e. 4.14 m).

      • OV-999 – Thanks for the information. I stand corrected. The respective Airplane Characteristics for Airport Planning documents are much more accurate than the old brochure I used.

        The A320’s cross section is a low-eccentricity oval, not a circle. The 737 shows a crease [or seam] at the cabin floor which implies a “double-bubble”.

        Some other differences. They do not necessarily mean one airplane is better than the other.
        – Same references as OV-99’s,
        – Dimensions in inches,
        – 737 vs A320

        – Inside cabin radius = 69.6” vs 72.44”
        – Max width at the listed height above the floor= 139.2” at 30” high vs 144.88 at 19.29” high
        – Estimated width at 40” above the floor, using some very rusty trigonometry:
        137.8” vs 139.0”
        (This height approximates the window centerline for both aircraft.)
        – Cabin height*, center aisle floor to ceiling: 86.8” vs 83.86
        – Cabin height* above the outboard seats: 62.2 vs 63.0
        [* NOTE these 737 dimensions may now be different due to the Sky Interior]

        Actual seat width depends on armrest width, sidewall clearance and aisle width. These are all negotiated with the seat supplier by the airline. As long as the installed seats meet each manufacturer’s seat-to-airplane interface requirements and the relevant airworthiness rules, seat width can and will vary.

      • “The A320’s cross section is a low-eccentricity oval, not a circle.”

        Correct! 🙂

        “Cabin height*, center aisle floor to ceiling: 86.8” vs 83.86”

        You’re looking at the old cabin configuration without the sculpted sidewalls and the smaller overhead bins (i.e. Section 2-5-0 Page 2). Now, please take a look at pages 3 and 4 in Section 2-5-0. There you can see the larger overhead bins and the increased aisle height of 87 inches.

        “Actual seat width depends on armrest width, sidewall clearance and aisle width.”

        True, but that doesn’t change the fact that the A320 can accommodate wider seats than the 737. Again, please take a look at page 67 in the Boeing document. So, what you’ve got are two sets of triple seats having a total width of 59 inches each and an aisle width of 20 inches. That’s equal to 6 seats having a seat-bottom width of 17 inches each and 8 armrests at a 2-inch width. By increasing the seat-bottom width to 17.2 inches, while maintaining the armrest width of 2 inches, the aisle width will be reduced by 1.2″ to 18.8″.

        Now, please take a look one again at the Airbus document. Page 4, Section 2-5-0. There you’ve got two sets of triple seats having a total width of 62 inches each and an aisle width of 19 inches. That’s equal to 6 seats having a seat-bottom width of 18 inches each and 8 armrests at a 2-inch width.

        Hence, the A320 cabin is effectively 5 inches wider than the 737 cabin (i.e. 6 x 0.8″ + 0.2″ = 5″).

        NB: Please do not that both drawings are slightly inaccurate in both documents. In the Boeing document, for example, the seats are drawn further out from the sidewalls than than what’s really the case, and in the Airbus drawing the measurements as shown is indicated to be between the centre line of the outer armrests. This doesn’t change anything, though, as it is the numbers shown that are the valid data (i.e. 59″ vs 62″ and 20″ vs 19″) and that is indicating the maximum internal seat width that’s possible).

  8. The picture of the A320 interior is distorted (squashed across the width). It can be seenin the standard unit in the galley at the front, which is actually square but in the picture appears as a vertically orientated rectangle.

  9. Obviously sculpted ceilings and nice lighting are cool. The only obvious thing which is being worked on is carry-on bag stowage. I suppose the pivot bins are the way of the future. Where else could on board bags be stowed? Racks near the boarding door that move on tracks into the crown space? Maybe the overhead bin isn’t the end all be all.

  10. Emirates should buy the 747-8, and just make a private cabin or two on the upper deck with a BBJ interior. Business and econ on the main deck.

  11. Looking at the ISIS video for the A320, around the 2:00 mark, it seems as if ISIS are saying in their cabin config you can gain about 6-9 seats over the usual A320 config, is this part of how Airbus has increased the A320 seat count?

  12. We got legislation when they kept people on the tarmac with overflowing toilets.

    Its going to come down to that in this case as well. It will take a while, but it will come.

    As for me, its all about the seat and the rest of it is a crock. I learned to read at a young age and don’t need IFE either.

  13. The argument between the B737 and A320 roominess comparison is that Murphy’s law will bring you onto a flight when 3 stout fellows sit in a row and have to eat dinner. That is very painful on the A320 and virtually impossible on the B737.

    Boeing plans to continue selling the old-fashioned (1960’s vintage) 737 for another decade at least and no amount of passenger complaining will deter them. They would rather come up with “research” that passengers do not want or need more space.

  14. You’ll get IFE whether you ask for it ir not : operators have conceded quite an effort adjusting to LCC-influenced (diluted, depressed) ticket pricing, wherefore presently the drive is strong for all kinds of ways and means to restore acceptable yields. As bottomline Y-class ticket pricing is spoiled milk, NEW SOURCES of revenue are the correct remedy : frills/ancillaries, Product Differentiation, IFE and payfreight are currently the ‘easy’ solutions, with better 24h productivity (translate = shorter ground rotations) as the Joker, the latter calling for certain hardware changes. Specially IFEC is promising, with real-time INSTANT monetization of credit cards being made available over broadband whereby freetime in-flight may be spent shopping, with in-flight advertising as an additional revenue source for thrifty operators !

  15. I promise that given the choice between improved ambient lighting and a seat that doesn’t render the customer incapacitated by the end of a ten hour transatlantic flight, a coach traveler will choose the seat EVERY TIME. The airlines think that access to overpriced WiFi and power ports somehow make up for what is becoming the most despised commercial industry — and that’s saying something considering we all have mobile phones.

    But keep “offering” us those slimline seats and “opportunity” to suffer in newly designed planes that were designed by the Marquis de Sade at the Dante Institute for Industrial Design.

  16. Legislation could step in to regulate installation of triple seats against wall panels : eg in the [3+3] feeder cabin configuration, outer seats-in-a-triple are a source of stress/MSD – the prevailing professional ails of Flight Attendants – from the “handing-out-then-recovering-back stop-clocked marathon” of twice 35+ trays rhs + lhs =140 times/flight repeatedly reaching out 49″ – 52″ like a crane over the shoulder of the occupant of seat C or D … Multiply by 6 flights/workday : to the ergonomics-sensitive HSE representative of AFA, ALFA … the sooner the better, triples, quadruples need to be made accessible from both ends (pentuples, sextuples to be banned). Planners : better be warned than being caught unaware the day the change is made effective !

  17. “We do try to understand what drives passengers to airplane; it goes to cross section and the trade is economics.” Boeing could easily design a plane with a wider cross section, as Airbus did with the A320 and the A350 XWB (vs the 787, though narrower than the 777), but Craver noted that this increases the “wetted” area (and drag), which hurts economics without necessarily increasing revenue.

    Yes they could, but they didn’t. With the 7E7/787 Boeing seemed to be all hung up on beating the A330 in comforts at nine abreast with slightly wider seats. Clearly, Boeing wanted/expected Airbus to respond with an enhanced A330 – which Airbus initially did — and not an all new airplane having the same seat width in nine abreast as the A330 has in 8 abreast. IMJ, Boeing managers seems to have believed that Airbus wouldn’t be able to respond with an all new airframe so soon after having done the A380 — or was this part of the strategy of taking Airbus to the WTO in order to make it as difficult as possible for Airbus to go for an all new aircraft?

    Once you’ve committed to the size of a fuselage cross-section, you’re basically done. I happen to believe that if Boeing could do the 787 all over again, they would have increased the 787 fuselage cross-section to about the same size as that of the A350. Now, they have to make the best out of the situation. By widening the 777X by 4 inches at the armrest level, the 787 and 777 will have exactly the same seat-bottom width (i.e. 17.2″), armrest width (i.e. 2″) and aisle width (i.e. 18″) at respectively 9 and 10 abreast. Some people may say that’s exactly how Boeing has been planning this all the time, but I don’t think so.

    Only Boeing seems to be stuck with the 17.2″ wide seat in economy class. Clearly, 17,2 inches is not the “universal standard” for economy class seats. In fact, it’s seems to be more of a Boeing “standard” as defined by the 707 in the 1960s. Bombardier, for example, will have 18.5 inch wide seats for window and aisle, and 19 inches for the middle seat at 5 abreast — and that’s for an airplane designed for relatively short flights. The fact of the matter is that economy class passengers flying on Boeing Aircraft will have to endure long flights in 17.2″ wide seats. However much Boeing is obfuscating and talking about how the “market” quickly told them the 787 is a nine abreast airplane, “just as market said 777 is now 10 abreast”, is not going to change the real possibility of Boeing having not gotten their cross-sections right. Hence, this has really nothing to do about “what the market wants”, but picking the right cross-section, period!

    As I said in my earlier comment in this thread; what if EK would decide to increase seat width to at least 19 inches on their A380s, which is possible if the floor is slightly raised. Wouldn’t that be a more significant product differentiator than what’s the case today, and if EK were to order A380-900Xs/A380-1000Xs they could even contemplate increasing seat pitch to at least 35 inches (i.e. from 32″ today) as there would be no reason — economically speaking, at least — cramming in as many passengers as possible on the enormous main deck of a streched A380. In short therefore, larger A380s would be able to offer superior comforts not only in the premium classes as well as in economy class.

    • “Widening the 777X by 4 inches” is nothing more than making the fuselage tube thinner. Outer diameter of the tube is 20 ft 4 in. Interior width is 229 in. The thickness therefore is 7.5 in. Reducing this by 2 in will create just one thing – the 777X will get louder inside.

      • Yes, in order not to confuse I could have written “widening the 777X by 4 inches internally. 🙂

        As per the 77L/77W/77F Airplane Characteristics for Airport Planning (Page 21), the current 777 can accommodate 10 abreast with a total width of 230 inches*** — and you’ve got to have some clearance between the window seat armrests and the side wall as well; so, lets say the actual internal width is 231 inches. The external cross-section is 244 inches, which means that the current side wall thickness is about 6.5 inches. Now, the 777X will have a 4-inch greater diameter at armrest level, which means that the side wall thickness in this area will be reduced to about 4.5 inches at the armrest level. However, the GE9X engines should be significantly quieter while the turbulent boundary layer noise transmission into the cabin should be greater, so I’m not sure if the overall noise level will be higher.

        ***Page 21:

        • The problem about “significantly quieter” engines is 20 % (percent) quieter is not really much. That is just a noise reduction of 1 dB. By reducing the thickness of a wall the sound insulation could be changed by about 10 dB. You also shift the frequency of coincidence.

          The expected response by Boeing would be to claim that “new materials” would solve this problem. There are new materials but untested for aviation use and not as cheap as the existing onces. There is also no reason why Airbus should not also use these materials.

          Trust me, there is a reason why the fuselage is as thick as it is. The ancient engineers were not dumb but the management didn’t have PowerPointPresentations…

        • That’s all very valid points, but we’re still talking about a pretty limited surface area of the fuselage and not the whole circumference of the fuselage barrel. In fact, I would be very surprised if the 777X cabin will be louder than the 77W.

        • Thinning the sidewall on the 777, and raising the floor 2″ on the A380, seem like some major contusions for some minor reward. If the paradigm shifts, and only 1/4 of the cabin is configured in sardine class, they can price it as such and not worry. Maybe the A350 can have a small cabin of cheap seats in the back at 10 abreast and 29″ pitch. Maybe like first class, the cheapest seats become a small percentage of the seats.

        • The A380 has very thick sidewalls which incorporate extruded fuselage frames. Future versions of the A380 could IMJ use reprofiled frames between the window and the main deck floor beams** — or similar to how the A350 frames are thinner around the windows as illustrated in figure 11 in the link below.

          By raising the floor panels as well, the effective internal Width could be increase from 248 inches to about 260 inches. 12 extra inches of width would add another 1.2″ to the seat-bottom width at 10 abreast.

          Figure 11

    • So how do you explain the low sales of the Bombardier C-Series? If seat width sold planes airlines would be flocking to Bombardier.

      • Untried plan from an untried (in this size) maker, 3? delays amounting to ?? years. I’d say they are doing pretty well

      • I’m sorry, but you seem to have totally missed my point. The C-series was just one example. I could also have mentioned the C919, the Embraer E-Jet Family**, MS-21 and the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ)*** as well. All these aircraft have/will-have sufficient cabin width that allows for a slightly greater seat width than the 18-inch standard of the A320. The fact of the matter is that no OEM other than Boeing offer such a narrow seat standard as 17.2″. How come they don’t copy Boeing in this area and that they all offer greater comfort than even the A320? Why haven’t they all listened carefully to Boeing’s claim that increased cabin width “increases the “wetted” area (and drag), which hurts economics without necessarily increasing revenue”.


        As for your question; I’ve repeatedly mentioned that I don’t believe seat width is such a big deal on short range flights. IMO, however, this issue is increasingly going to be enough of a product differentiator going forward for economy class passengers spending 10 hours or more in the air. Obviously, Boeing is counting on travellers remaining largely uninformed on the issue. It remains to be seen, however, if they’ll succeed with that strategy.

        • The airlines haven’t stopped ordering Boeing jets, so maybe they know something you don’t.

        • Well, past success stories doesn’t necessarily predict future successes. Some airlines might order fewer Boeing aircraft than they otherwise would have done, if all the other offerings provide for wider seats and better passenger comfort to an increasing number of individuals seeking out a more comfortable travel experience.

        • IMO, however, this issue is increasingly going to be enough of a product differentiator going forward for economy class passengers spending 10 hours or more in the air.

          Well then they are going to offer more than a thumb width of space. An extra 8/10 of an inch, does not a product differentiator make.

        • Hmm, you seem to say that with absolute certainty — interesting.

          As for the 777X vs. the A380, please do not that an A380 having a slightly raised floor and 777X-style re-profiled fuselage frames between the windows and the main deck floor beams, would be able to accommodate seats having seat-bottom widths at least 2.3″ wider than that of the 777X at 10 abreast.

  18. I would disagree that Airbus didn’t care about passenger interiors prior to the B787. In fact, many airlines didn’t care that much before. The fine art today is to create a very efficient cabin (read: minimum space per passenger) and still have passengers being positive about it. Usually it works (many passengers also adapt their expectation to the price, so when they book lowest price they accept a few disadvantages; but if you are not the cheapest airline on the market, your customers may expect more).
    But in general Airbus is a bit lame when it comes to update the A320’s interior. It is strange that you can choose between engines, but not between interior designs.

    I can recommend the recent WSJ article:

    And the best quote from that:
    “With food and TV,” said Mr. Clark at Emirates, “people are mesmerized.”

    Big issue is IFE: technology in the aircraft is trailing the consumer market by years, and systems are usually designed for 5-7 years. Hence, you may end up in a shiny B777 with an IFE system that reminds you of the Commodore 64.

  19. Cabin Ambiance….you got to be kidding me! Try as they may, no matter how pleasant Boeing and Airbus try to make the flight, airlines will find a new way to pack you in even tighter. Seriously, want to make my experience better – give me two beers, a small pillow and a window seat. I will be asleep right after the engines start and remain sleeping through most of the flight. If I awaken…then give me another beer when i get back from the head. That is how I fly. That is how I tolerate being treated like livestock.

  20. The 787 and 777 seat squeeze is nothing new. Ever since the first twin-aisle airplanes [the 747 EIS in 1970] the original seat widths have been compressed to allow one more seat per row. This has happened around 5 to 10 years after EIS.
    – 747: from 2-4-3 nine abr to 3-4-3 ten abr.
    – DC-10 and L1011 from 2-4-2 eight abr to 2-5-2 nine abr
    [in a fit of corporate insanity, Pan Am configured their L1011-500’s at ten abr then tried to sell these seats for long flights like Seattle-London]
    – 777 from 2-5-2 or 3-3-3 nine abr to 3-4-3 ten abr
    – the 787 from 3-2-3 or 2-4-2 eight abr to 3-3-3 nine abr
    – coming soon the A380 from 3-4-3 ten abr to 3-5-3 eleven abr

    The notable exceptions have been the 767 at 2-3-2 seven-abr and the A300/310/330 and 340 at 2-4-2 eight abr. [some charter/inclusive tour operators have added one more column of seats to their 767’s and A330’s]

  21. It is amazing that we still copy the original steam age concept of hoisting our carry on baggage way above our heads.
    Impossible for kids, difficult for the elderly or infirm and a bit tricky in flight.
    I am amazed that something like a pull out floor mounted bin that fits under the seat in front has not been attempted.

    • Seen this, done that. But the space above your head is otherwise unused. The space below is used quite a bit. I don’t see the big issue with elderly and infants. After all, there are still flight attendants. There is the Airbus concept of Bag2Go (Google it), but I don’t see how that has any potential.

  22. Head over to SeatGuru. Air New Zealand puts 17 inch seats in their A320s. The horror! KLM puts 17 inch seats in their A330s. Yikes! Lufthansa puts 17.5 inch seats in their A330s and A340s. Torture!
    Don’t they understand how important passenger comfort is?????

    • Rick, see above

      “Actual seat width depends on armrest width, sidewall clearance and aisle width. These are all negotiated with the seat supplier by the airline. As long as the installed seats meet each manufacturer’s seat-to-airplane interface requirements and the relevant airworthiness rules, seat width can and will vary.”

      And so it goes.

    • Don’t stare on seat guru numbers 17 could be 17.8 About seat width, put your grand parents in a 777-300ER 10 abreast for 15 hours & tell them you see no problem. Substandard is substandard, also if it is a brand you identify with.

      • So that extra thumb width of space is going to make a 15 hour trip into a pleasure cruise? Hardly.

    • An airline won’t gain much by this on a single aisle aircraft or even a twin aisle aircraft without adding another seat. Lufthansa for example gives two sizes: seat width 44 cm (17.3 in) shoulder width 49 cm (19.3 in). The 44 cm are not the seat spacing.

    • “Don’t they understand how important passenger comfort is?????”

      At least Southwest does. That’s why they plan to increase the seat width by less the size of your thumbnail on their MAXes – can be marketed as an advantage to brand neutral passengers.

      ““The seat technology has improved tremendously over the years,” Van de Ven said. “It’s allowing us to get the seats closer to the sides of the airplane by almost an inch, maybe a little bit more than that. You can then use that increased space in a little bit of additional seat width.” ”

      Imitation? Sincerest form of flattery. 😉

      • Southwest is also taking away 1 inch of pitch.
        I would rather have that extra pitch back, than a extra thumb of seat width.

      • Imitation? Sincerest form of flattery.

        Then why don’t all A320 operators put 18″ seats in their planes? Many use the same 17.2″ seats that go into most 737s. If 18″ seats really drove increased seat sales, all the A320 operators would be using them. But they don’t.

        • The A320 gives you the option of having wider seats, wider arm-rests or wider aisles which is a nice thing to have too.

  23. The unstated fact is Big B has no aircraft to compete with the A380. As the travelling wealthy sees the better accommodations can be had on an A380 over a charter or even a private jet they are travelling in style and with class. Delta and American had better get with it or they will just hall the tourist across the pond. $20,000 a ticket is cheap for your own stateroom and unique one on one service. Of course they will always be the, I can’t get there fast enough or cheap enough crowd. First Class on Ships was there for a reason and First Class now on the A380 is growing quickly. Otherwise why would they carriers invest the money to install it.

    • Yes, if the new first class standard will be a suite which will include a private bathroom for one or two passengers (travelling together), then first class will only be found on the A380, sooner rather than later.

    • So all those airlines that bought A350s will be offering an inferior product.
      I wonder why the A350 is such a market success, while the A380 is a flop?

      • No, but it may look as if the A350 and 777X won’t be able to accommodate new, very large suite-type first class facilities without compromising their operating economics. If you put such type of first class facilities on the A350 and the 777X it would occupy significantly more of the available cabin floor areas, percentage-wise, than what’s the case with the A380. IMJ, therefore, first class travel could increasingly become something you’d find on only A380s in the future.

        • Well I guess all those airlines who bought A350s and 777s are screwed.

        • [Edited]

          What I’m talking about is the fact that while there is an increasing number of airlines that are doing away with first-class seating on overseas flights, EK and EY, for example, are not. On the contrary, their first class facilities are catering to a growing demand and seems to get ever more luxurious. However much one hates the A380, it doesn’t change the fact the the aircraft is particularly well suited to accommodate with ample space these new type of facilities.

          While premium traffic has fared worse than economy traffic in recent years, the story is varied according to region. The highest growing premium growth on major global traffic flows have been Middle East to Far East and Europe to Middle East. This is possibly a worrying sign for European carriers looking to stem the ride of passengers connecting between Europe and the Far East through hubs in the Middle East, although premium traffic on direct flows between Europe and the Far East has outpaced global premium traffic.

          Premium air travel: structural demand slide provides revenue headwind, but who is most exposed?

  24. Without appearing ostentatious or flippant, on sectors exceeding six hours fly Club Class (Business) as I do, be weary as you still need to be selective on the individual airlines cabin & seat quality also take heed by selecting a quad for that extra degree of safety.

    It only demands one carrier to actively promote superior economy seat experience to immediately boost load factors on sectors exceeding six hours & the rest will follow, well some. Air New Zealand took the pitch not width initiative some years ago with not inconsiderably favourable results, unfortunately no longer.

    On flying to the near or Far East occasional in economy I rare encounter seat width problems with fellow passengers, conversely North American transatlantic can be a problem & North American internal, well in fear of offending most commentators here I best not go there.

    The 330, 350, 787 & 777 all offer potential but the 380 truly offers flexibility by the bucket load in it’s current or any future guise.

    • I agree.

      Instead of putting 11 seats abreast on a slightly elevated main deck of the A380, Airlines could use the increased width available and offer 19″ to 19.5″ inch-wide economy class seats at 10 abreast. An A380-900, for example, would still be able to accommodate some 60-70 more passengers than today’s A388 on the main deck, and with greater seat width and a slight increase in pitch (i.e. from 32″ to 35″).

      • One has to wonder, what is the spent $/area gained of raising the floor, or thinning the sidewall? What is the $/area of stretching the A380 to 80m? The A380-900 has got to be a great value in terms of return on area for investment.

        • As for thinning the sidewall on the A380, please do look at my reponse above. However, it would require a much more elaborate effort than simply raising the floor panels under the seats (i.e. not underneath the galley, toilets etc.). Remember, we’re not talking about doing anything to the main deck floor beams.

          As for an A380-900, I’d reckon it would cost something in the order of €1 to €2 billion, including certification. Compared to, for example, the 747-8 programme that basically required a “new wing”, and which apparently cost some $3 billion to $4 billion in research-and-development expenses — not counting the total projected loss on the program of at least $1.7 billion** — a stretched A380 incorporating a, say, ten frame stretch would add about 75 m2; or somewhere between €13 million to €27 million per square meter.


        • And raising the floor and thinning the sidewalls would add perhaps 7.5m2, so that program would have to cost between 100mil and 200mil to compare similar pricing for the stretch.

        • Yeah, about 10 extra m2.

          Again, Airbus could raise the floor today. That’s not going to cost much, relatively speaking. Thinner frames could come along with the A380neo. I’m not sure it would cost as much as €100 million, though.

        • raising the floor ( as in “inserting a false floor” ) would create significant installation space for IFE, wouldn’t it ?

        • The distribution in the cabin of IFE to seatback AVOD flatscreens + connectivity to the evermore numerable varieties of PED apps tend increasingly to standardise upon short-range wireless solutions, avoiding the wiring head-ache + extra dead weight. If elevated high enough, a better way to put into usage the false floor could possibly be arranging for more carry-on lockers ? ln its present-day cabin spec, CIL (Checked-In Luggage) requisition ratio upon the LD3 positions underbelly in the A380 at high cabin load factors is excessive, to the result that this aircraft’s payfreight capability is falling short vs e.g. the 777, for lack of available volume !

        • FT you touch an interesting topic. By pushing up the floor, space becomes available. Space is sparse, specially under seats. IFE boxes certainly seem a good idea, inproving seat comfort for the ones sitting behind a box. Also offering options to enhance leg space / comfort seem welcome (I’m long). It should be around 2 inch, seems small/ impracticle for stowing stuff. Maybe there more space to be found increasing options.

    • Yet airlines buy 330s, 350s, 787s, and 777s, by the bucket load, but not A380s.

      • Or to paraphrase, airlines buy 737s and A320s by the bucket load, but not A330s, A350s, 787s and 777s.

        • Let’s do a little reality check:
          A330 orders: 1,342
          777 orders: 1548
          787 orders: 1,031
          A380 orders: 324

          In the end, I guess it comes down to how one defines “bucket load.”

        • Hmm, the above comment was sent away a little bit prematurely. 🙂

          Since the year 2000 — when the A380 programme was launched — there’s been some 3.5 times as many 737s and A320s single aisle orders than for the twin aisle A330, A350, 787 and 777. In that same time period these 4 WBs had among them some 5.5. times more sales than the A380 and the 747.

          So yes, I’d agree that it comes down to how one defines “bucket load”.

  25. It seems to me the balance is between passenger comfort (read: clearly a second tier consideration in coach, but important in first and biz class), financials (read: how much money can be made by the airline), efficiency (read: manufacturer engineering capabilities).
    For coach, price matters most to the passenger so they will make that the primary driver for their purchase. Likely, they travel infrequently and can stand anything for the once a year long trip they want to go on (if it is cheaper). So the airlines will fit them in and try to make a thin margin off them. The manufacturers will do their best to improve the experience so it is tolerable, but an extra 2 cm of seat width is not really a differentiator to most of the public.
    For frequent flyers in first and business class, the products are going to be fairly similar with the exception of perhaps the 380 where there is a larger amount of space to play with. Unfortunately, that model does not seem to work on many routes since there are a limited number of rich customers who regularly fly long trunk flights between slot restricted cities. It seems that even for them, frequency is very important, probably even more important than flying only on 380s. Their priority may be more the time on the ground and not the experience in the air ie. an extra few hours on the ground at a nice hotel or restaurant beats the experience of any plane flying…

    • “Likely, they travel infrequently and can stand anything for the once a year long trip they want to go on (if it is cheaper). ” Most incorrect comment I’ve seen in a long time. Oil industry, shipping industry, domestic employees industry etc flies millions of people around a year in coach, or coach minus, if they can find it. That’s why most oil industry work is done by contractors, or heaven help you if you are one, sub-contractors, the oil company is excused the non-standard of working conditions. AFs most profitable routes are to oil rich countries in Africa, and that allows tem to use 77W in 475 pax form, they know that probably not a single pax has a choice. Same with flights to Philippines and Singapore, all workers. Emirates uses 77W in 10 wide a lot, in many markets it is the same situation, especially as a lot of it is labour going to Dubai. No option is the driver of this configuration, and as options increase, or guys get more fussy, I think 34 inch will prevail in 10 years time.

    • “Unfortunately, that model does not seem to work on many routes since there are a limited number of rich customers who regularly fly long trunk flights between slot restricted cities. It seems that even for them, frequency is very important, probably even more important than flying only on 380s.”

      I’m talking about an all new suite class that includes a private bathroom for the same price as the current first class rates. On the upper forward deck of the A380, there’s enough space for two Etihad-type A380 “residence” suites and four separate “single” suites having a bed, a seat and a bathroom. That means that the current A380-800 could accommodate up to 8 people in this kind of first class. An A380-900 would be able to accommodate 4 more “single” suits.

      Hence, on all EK A380 flights, for example, this new “suite-standard” would become de facto the new first class. An A380-800neo and an A380-900neo would have superior economics even with the “wasted” extra space for first class travellers.

      Also, EK is increasingly using the A380 on added “frequencies”. For example, they have long since had 5 daily A380 flights to LHR.

  26. What’s the cost of flying floor area, versus the cost of processing passengers and flying the weight of them? What is the cost to the airlines of flying a flight of 400 passengers versus the cost of running the flight empty? There is less check in, fuel, baggage handling, so what is the percentage of savings?

    So, for example, what is the cost to the airlines of transporting someone on a 787 in 9 abreast 31″ pitch versus 8 abreast 36″ pitch? That is an increase of 2 3/8″ of width and 5″ of pitch, which is a considerable increase in comfort. The increase in floor area used is about 30%, but due to savings in fuel and less processing, the true cost might only be 20%. If airlines offer rational pricing on competitive routes, purchasing more floor has the potential to become popular.

    Similarly, what is the true cost of purchasing the floor area of say 32 economy seats on an A380 upper deck for a private cabin across the width of the aircraft, which would be a very nice size private cabin. If an economy ticket was $1000, the true cost to the airline for floor area might only be 20K, plus throw in 10K for food and showers. So yes, it looks like with rational pricing the airlines could offer a variety of extra floor area options to serve the market competitively.

    • TC, you have put your finger on the rationale behind H21QR @ [1+3+1] vs A321 @ [3+3] : the different use of the floor area allows for better recovery of the cylinder volume. You get 3.25 cuft/pax overhead stowage room, vs 2.045 in A321, or 59 % better volume. You trade in de-cramming transversally the cabin for less cabin [OWE+Payload] weight, reducing trip cost, but opening for a good shot at Product Differentiation, boosting Yields. As a spin-off value, you get shorter Airport rotations = boosted 24h productivity. The conclusion is a paradox : with fewer seats you make more money. The extra freight underbelly is the cherry-on-the-cake ! The # 20 seats thrown out to go 5-abreast were low-yield seats, contributing virtually zero to the Trip Result. Same rationale as yours, has indeed the potential to become popular !

  27. Boeing needs to continue to try to confuse the press and the public to believe that luggage bins and funky ceilings can hide the cramped seating and banging your elbows with the guy next seat is not so important when you are flying a Boeing product. Not to forget that 737 window belt is at the correct height for people from WW2 times.

    • When I fly on A320 I still bang my elbows with the guy in the next seat. That extra thumb width of space is the seat bottom. It is even less at shoulder height.

      • “.. I still bang my elbows with the guy in the next seat. ”

        But does it hurt as much ?

        • It doesn’t hurt at all. But it’s not something that an extra thumb width will mitigate.

        • Your precisely right up to five hours is not too much to endure, beyond that in a single aisle it becomes intolerable, then what percentage fly more than five ours in a single aisle, I also fail to see any inherent advantage by any airlines single aisle business offering, the wafer thin partition, it’s flimsy curtain with food & service that fails to impress, is complete waste of otherwise good money.

          On my current Antipodian assignment we flew Malaysian A380 only because they offer a superior business facility other A380 operators on the Kangaroo Route do not, namely no children or babies, absolute bliss.

          On departing LHR I cheekily spoke to the purser requesting my wife & myself to be bumped up into first, or I this instance down to first, he said the entire first section was empty (It was & also in complete darkness) without much pressure he caved in & fired up the section & we had the entire front lower deck to ourselves, albeit with business service & cuisine, the toilets were larger than our homes en-suite shower room, talk about space, seat & quietness, you could hear a pin drop, so much so that any thoughts of joining the seven mile high club were the same as the entire flight, a dream……..

      • Consider the other direction. Would you feel comfortable flying in a 9 abreast A330, with 16.5″ wide seats? After all, it’s only narrower than the 10 abreast 777 seats by less than your thumb width. Would it make a difference?

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