Imagine an economy cabin that’s already been squeezed. Now go further, and imagine a cabin behind that, where an extra seat has been added across each row, and legroom has been cut too. Maybe there’s not even any in flight entertainment either.

To travel outsiders, there are four cabins on a large, long haul plane: first, business, premium and economy. Sure, some don’t have first and some don’t have premium, but effectively, these are the four options travellers presently find. But what if airlines were up to something so sinister, we never saw it coming, like something “below” economy. If executive interviews are anything to go on, it really might be a thing.

Airbus is quite interested in toting 10 abreast seating on their A350 aircraft to attract more orders. The A350 is one of the newest, and arguably the best planes for passenger comfort currently flying in the skies today, but as low cost catches on, airlines want more from every inch.

Two airlines, Air Caraibes and French Bee have already taken them up on this offering with the A350, opting for 10 across seating, rather than the 9 offered on most airlines.

There’s just one problem with that: the Boeing 777 is the long haul plane airlines have chosen to go 10 abreast with, because the plane is a full 24cm wider than the A350. In an already squeezed cabin, you better bet those 24cm matter. It’s downright hard to square how those two cabins would be equally comfortable if the same number of seats were crammed in.

But this is all kind of boring, right? Numbers and figures and all that?

RGN sat down in Paris with François Caudron, Airbus VP of Marketing and the frankly dull and boring conversation you may have just been wondering why you bothered clicking took a starkly interesting turn. In speaking of how airlines are responding to this new and rather uncomfortable option, the VP offered the following to RGN…

“Some of them say we may want to have a cabin portion, just to have a product that allows us to compete with the long-haul, low-cost. And then I’m seeing in the mainline carriers, this is what we’re going to be seeing. The back of the cabin, or it’s a part of the economy cabin, ten-abreast, and then a nine-abreast, and then a premium economy, and then business.”

Let that sink in for a moment. After introducing basic economy, making people board last and eliminating virtually everything but the seat cushion, Mr. Caudron is suggesting that airlines are seriously considering creating a sub cabin of its own, inferior to what we know today as economy, or even basic economy. In today’s world, basic economy loses out on some soft touches, but at least they get the same seat as everyone else.

Airlines have already degraded the economy experience for passengers looking for a budget deal in terms of how many miles they’ll earn, bags they are entitled to and when they get to board, but now it seems they actually want to slap a new curtain onto planes, to rope off the back of the plane for the true budget seekers.

Forget basic economy, this would be an inferior cabin which doesn’t even get to sit in the same area as the rest of those who purchased economy tickets. It’s almost amusing to think of how an airline could even title or brand such a cabin. “Economy Ultra”?

Presently, airlines play with the notion of segmenting economy in more positive ways. Virgin Atlantic, Delta, United and many others have kept standard economy seating as is, but added a few rows in the front with extra room and little perks for frequent flyers or those willing to pay up. It seems fair to offer a slightly upgraded leg room experience to those willing to pay up, while making everyone else feel perfectly dignified. There’s a nice anonymity to the current economy cabin status quo, where other than a few extra legroom seats, everyone is in the same boat.

With all that in mind, it’s hard to imagine the injustice of creating a new sub cabin in the back with an extra person stuck across each row, and further legroom removed, taking an already diminished travel experience to new lows. Naturally, there’s the safety issues too, and this is sounding far too much like a revisitation of the Titanic. The timing of this is all particularly odd, given Delta’s highly lauded news that it was adding luxurious touches to economy, to actually make it more appealing just last week.

Other than a couple of French low cost airlines, there’s no concrete plans to create the economy cabin actually designed with inspiration from Hell, but it’s clearly in the works. Airbus executives wouldn’t be chatting this confidently about a new sub-standard segment of economy if plans weren’t already in the works. The only question will be: will anyone take it?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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9 Comments

  1. Either they are seriously considering it or;

    – It’s starting a rumour for the sake of sowing an idea to attract interest
    – It’s a marketing play to make us artificially value the economy experience we have today , more.

    The second suggestion is said somewhat in jest but I sincerely hope they don’t go down this route. As someone that travels in the front half of the plane I struggle with the concept of marginalising those that don’t yet further. Flying to me is about adventure and excitement and diminishing that further would be a crying shame.

  2. It makes sense when a lot of airlines are deleting First and a lot are jumping on Basic Economy and normal Economy separation… Suppose it will be a thing in a few years and we will have Basic Economy and Economy Extra perhaps as two separated cabins, then Premium Eco and Business. I’ll never resign myself to sitting that far back however …

  3. Maybe a comparable experience to a British train journey during rush hour, but considerably cheaper!

    There will always be people who make their decisions solely on cost. I recall as story about an Indian airline asking for all the seats to be removed and handrails installed. If it’s cheap enough people will be prepared to suffer for the trade off in comfort.

  4. recently flew Icelandic from Boston to Reykjavík on a 767-300 with 8 across on a “EuroAtlantic” branded, Portugal flag plane! I’ve never seen more than 7 across on a 767. Had only 15.5″ width. WORST FLIGHT EVER and will never fly Icelandic again.

  5. Beyond Abysmal haven’t announced the cabin layout for their a350s other than the business equivalent…
    The old 777s are densified…

  6. There’s a chapter in the Lord of the Rings, where Dwarves are captured by giant arachnids, anesthetized, bound in spider silk, and hung by their feet. Airlines need to admit — to themselves, and their customers — this is, ultimately, where they’re headed. No food service or entertainment necessary. There’ll be an up-charge for customers who prefer to be suspended in a new (vs. ‘reconditioned’) gunny sack.

  7. When the 777 moved to 10-abreast, maybe you guys were too much of young kids or already travelling in business class (maybe!) to know what that meant for us. 13 hour flights SIN-CDG in narrow seats of 777 at 10-abreast, prisoner of a terribly noisy jet in cruise, shouting at the hostess to get orange juice, navigating between suffocating overheated and ice-cold cabin air mid-flights, etc…
    Now the fact Airbus A350 is copying the 777 offering 10-abreast is nothing but a surprise, given the rest of the un-bundling of the YC tickets.
    I have measured the Economy class seats width of Qatar Airways 787, 2019 best airline: 16.8inches. any complaints? Not so many.
    So here is my view:
    I believe Airbus are right with their approach as explained by their Commercial head C Scherrer. and by the way you pretty unfairly (any relationship issue with Airbus? 😉 ) forget to mention an important thing: Airbus delivers 9-abreast YC to some airlines like Delta, and 10-abreast to other airlines : airlines have a choice, A350 can have both configurations (like A330 I think). Boeing widebodies no longer offer that: only JAL flies their 787 with their originally intended YC arrangement at 8 seats abreast.

    Boeing brag about delivering all of their 777s at 10-abreast while eventually investing big dollars in sculpted fuselage frames on 777X in an attempt to give a couple of tenth of inches back to customers. What kind of avowal is this.
    The best YC ever is flying on Emirates A380 at 19 inches, so I think it is a little unfair to be throwing stones at the Airbus guys on comfort.

    And honestly, having flown the A350 at 10-abreast when the airline name was still French Blue, REU to Orly airport, I can tell you that Yes, I will accept to fly cheaper on the A350 at 10-abreast, thank you very much. Quiet jet, constant temperature throughout the flight, less tired upon arrival, pretty cool lighting scheme like sunset and sunrise in the cabin, camera showing the ground operations during the Boarding…
    There is much more than seat width to make a journey comfortable.
    Your article looks to me a little heavy against Airbus, while they might be adopting the right strategy in fact.

  8. Still better than the back of a Herc. If this article is about 10 abreast then why did the photo show 11?

  9. Something tells me this would be used for travelers used to cramped conditions like India/Pakistan.

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