Virgin Atlantic plans to lengthen legroom in economy – for a price. Meanwhile, British Airways’ (BA) economy passengers will be squeezed into narrower seats on long-haul flights – although there’s no word yet of a drop in ticket prices.
But this whole concept of paying more for what you previously got for free (i.e. enough room to not lose feeling in your feet), or not getting a lower price in return for having your knees jammed into the back of the seat in front, has plenty of travellers asking whether it’s fair treatment of passengers.
And the US Federal Aviation Administration is even looking into the issue of shrinking legroom from a safety perspective, after heavy pressure from a US group called Flyers Rights, which rejects carriers’ arguments that passengers benefit from smaller seats and shrinking legroom in the form of lower fares.
Alexandre De Junaic, the CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents the airlines, reportedly said in December that it was unfair to ask airlines to charge “the lowest price and provide the best product and the largest space”.
“What you must keep in mind is that people don’t want to pay, they want to be badly treated,” the IATA boss said, according to the Runwaygirlnetwork aviation news site.
Flyers Rights’ president Paul Hudson, of course, quickly rejected that argument, saying on the group’s site that one of the main reasons passengers refused to play more for more legroom or greater comfort was because they thought it was a plain, old rip-off. He may have a point, given that paying more for what was previously free – enough room to move your legs – isn’t something most consumers consider a great deal.
Flyers Rights reckons that the average width of a plane seat has shrunk from 18 inches to 16.5 inches in recent years, while legroom has dropped from 35 inches to 31 inches, although some US carriers offer just 28 inches.
The new moves by Virgin and BA could be seen as a good way to measure whether flyers are indeed willing to pay more for greater comfort, or happy to pay the same (if not less) for discomfort.
Virgin will offer a new type of economy-class seat with legroom of 34 inches, bigger than the current economy offering of 31 inches. But it’ll require buying an ‘economy delight’ seat, which presumably will be more expensive than lower-classed economy seats.
"When I started Virgin Atlantic in 1984 we wanted to change the way people fly – to make it amazing and unforgettable, wherever you are sat in the plane,” Virgin Group founder Richard Branson said.
"We’re investing in the future of flying economy and from spring 2018 customers will be able to choose to fly ‘economy light’, ‘economy classic’ or ‘economy delight’."
Branson said it was the biggest change to the airline’s economy cabin in a decade, costing them £300 million (AU$533 million). Virgin Atlantic has not released ticket prices for the various classes. Nor has it released the legroom available on ‘economy light’ seats.
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While Virgin’s playing with the names of economy class, British Airways plans to introduce narrower seats to add an extra passenger space into economy rows on some aircraft.
BA revealed its new World Traveller Plus and World Traveller cabins this week, and although the airline emphasised its “elegant new seats” with entertainment screens that are 50 percent larger, British newspaper The Telegraph pointed out that the new World Traveller section on planes would contain 10 seats per row instead of nine, meaning that the new seats may be elegant but they’ll also be smaller.
The newspaper noted that when Qatar Airways made a similar change, it’s seat-width went from 18.5 inches to 17 inches. World Traveller is BA’s name for economy class on long-haul flights.