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?

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