Jetmakers feud over seat width with big orders at stake

Jetmakers feud over seat width with big orders at stake

PARIS - A row has flared up between leading planemakers over the width of tourist-class seats on long-distance flights, setting the tone for a bitter confrontation at this month's Dubai Airshow.

The dispute focuses on the width of seats provided on long-haul flights for economy passengers - not always the ones most courted by airlines, but whose allocated space holds the key to efficiency claims for the latest jets offered by Airbus and Boeing.

Airbus this week called for an industry standard that would provide for a seat at least 18 inches (46 cm) wide in economy cabins, but its US arch-rival Boeing says it should be for airlines to decide.

The dispute comes as planemakers vie to sell ever-larger versions of their twin-engined long-distance aircraft, with potentially record orders expected at the Nov. 17-21 event.

How the back of the plane is laid out - particularly whether seating is 9 or 10 abreast - is central to the economic performance claims being made for new 'mini-jumbo' jet designs.

Boeing says its revamped "777X" will hold 406 people based on economy seats over 17 inches wide and set out 10 in each row.

Airbus says the competing version of its A350 will carry 350 people in 18-inch-wide economy seat laid out 9 abreast.

Plane giants often trade blows on technical matters through advertising in the trade press. Now, Airbus is appealing directly to the public ahead of the Dubai Airshow, where the 777X is expected to dominate with over 100 orders.

It recently previewed what may be the start of a new ad war by showing financiers a slide illustrating three people squashed together at a restaurant, titled "Would You Accept This?"

"Boeing is proposing long-distance flying in seats narrower than regional turbo-props," said Airbus sales chief John Leahy.

As diets change, people get bigger but plane seating has not radically changed.

Between the early 1970s, when the Boeing 747 jumbo defined modern long-haul travel, and the turn of the century, the weight of the average American 40- to 49-year-old male increased by 10 per cent, according to US Health Department Data.

The waist of the average 21st-century American male is 39.7 inches, according to US health statistics, which equates to a diameter of 12.6 inches. This leaves 2 inches either side in many plane seats, which are narrower than at an average cinema.

Airbus says that is not enough for long-haul travel and says its rival is sticking to a seat concept from the 1950s, when the average girth of the newly christened 'jet set' was narrower.

Airbus says it has commissioned research suggesting an extra inch in seat width improves sleep quality by 53 per cent.

Boeing disputes Airbus's figures on seat measurements and says it is not up to manufacturers to step into decisions on how airlines balance fares and facilities. It also says research shows cabin experience depends on more than the width of a seat.

"It really comes down to providing flexibility to airlines and allowing them to do the things that they believe they need to do to be successful," said Boeing cabins expert Kent Craver.

"They don't want us to dictate to them what makes them profitable. They know their business better than anyone else."

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