August 12, 2022

The Airbus A350 is an incredible plane — it’s fuel efficient, ultra long range, and provides a great passenger experience. From a passenger experience standpoint, one major positive is that historically the plane has only had nine seats per row in economy on full service airlines, rather than 10. That will likely soon be changing, as reported by Flight Global.

Expect the Airbus A350 to get denser

Every full service airline operating the Airbus A350 currently has nine seats per row in economy, in a 3-3-3 configuration. While you could squeeze in 10 seats per row (as we’ve seen at airlines like French Bee), that’s really pushing it in terms of comfort based on the current cabin width.

Airbus is now preparing to introduce a new Airbus A350 interior configuration that will make it practical for all airlines to have 10 seats per row in economy. How is this possible? Well, aircraft fuselages are quite thick, so Airbus is slightly reshaping the cabin of the A350 so that the walls are pushed out a little bit, providing additional interior width.

Airbus claims that it can introduce 10-abreast seating “very comfortably,” without compromising seat width. On most full service airlines, this would translate to an additional 30 seats or so, since that’s roughly how many rows of economy you’ll find on many A350-1000s.

It’s expected that the first A350 with the expanded cabin will be entering service shortly, though it’s not yet known for which airline.

French Bee already has 10 seats per row in A350 economy

This doesn’t sound great for the passenger experience

As mentioned above, Airbus claims that it can add a seat in each row without decreasing the width of existing seats. I’m skeptical of that claim, and would like to bring a measuring tape when the first such plane is in service.

But even if that were possible, there’s still no denying that this will have a negative impact on the passenger experience:

  • I doubt we’ll see more lavatories installed, so the ratio of passengers to lavatories will get worse
  • With the current 3-3-3 layout, 67% of passengers get an aisle or window seat, while with a 3-4-3 layout, 60% of passengers get an aisle or window seat, so the ratio of people in non-middle seats gets worse
  • In general everything is less pleasant with a higher capacity plane, from how hectic boarding is, to how personalized service is

In fairness, though, it’s pretty impressive if you can add 30 seats to a plane with only minimal impacts on passenger comfort. Being able to carry more passengers lowers per passenger emissions and improves the economics of the jet, in theory allowing airlines to sell tickets for less.

Don’t expect nine-abreast seating in A350 economy to stick

Bottom line

Airbus is making some structural changes to the A350, which will allow the jet to more comfortably accommodate 10 people per row in economy. While some ultra low cost carriers have already done this, it came at the expense of seat width.

Airbus claims it can add another seat in each row without impacting seat width, by simply moving out the walls a little bit. I have to imagine this will become the standard sooner rather than later, since airlines will have a hard time saying no to increasing capacity by 30 or so seats.

What do you make of the Airbus A350 going 10-abreast?

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