Airline Sardine Can Planes Adding Seats

Today’s NY Times included this story about how airlines are figuring out ways to fit more bodies into their planes.

“One of the first to use the thinner seats in coach was American Airlines, which refitted its economy-class section seven years ago.

“Those seats were indeed thinner than the ones they replaced, allowing more knee and legroom,” Tim Smith, a spokesman for American, said. American actually removed two rows in coach, adding about two inches of legroom, when it installed the new seats. It promoted the change with a campaign called “More Room Throughout Coach.”

But two years later, to cut costs, American slid the seats closer together and ended its “More Room” program without fanfare. When the changes were completed last year, American said its “density modification program” had added five more seats to the economy-class section of its MD-80 narrow-body aircraft and brought the total seat count to 120 in the back of the plane.

Airlines can only do so much with their existing fleets to save space. The real opportunities, say seat manufacturers and design experts, are with the new generation of aircraft that are coming soon.

Perhaps the most extraordinary example of a new jet that could accommodate features unheard of previously is the Airbus A380. There is so much available room on the superjumbo that Virgin Atlantic Airways is even considering placing a beauty salon in its premium-class section.

With a typical configuration, the A380 will accommodate about 500 passengers. But with standing-room-only seats, the same plane could conceivably fit in 853 passengers, the maximum it would be permitted to carry.