Airbus works to make 10-abreast A350 a smidge more comfortable

Less than a handful of Airbus A350 XWB customers have selected a 10-abreast configuration in economy class for the twinjet, which has been advertised in the past as offering individual seat width of just 16.4”. But Airbus has been quietly working on a configuration that would enable airlines to offer a seat that will be just shy of 17″ at 10-abreast, the airframer confirms.

Though “we haven’t launched it” yet, says Airbus executive VP, strategy and marketing Dr. Kiran Rao in relation to the smidge-more-room 10-abreast layout, “you can play with the angles on the sidewalls and you can play a little with the armrest and then you can be very clever with the design of the seat. It will be 16.8” or 16.9”, something like that.”

This compares to the A350’s standard 9-abreast layout with 18” wide seats, which offers “a very comfortable layout” that 99% of customers have chosen, says Rao.

“We have been able to demo a [near] 17” seat at 10-abreast on the A350,” he reveals.

AirAsia X flies 9-abreast Airbus A330s (which offer seat width of 16.5”, according to SeatGuru), and, according to Rao, AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes has confided that passengers on the A330 – generally smaller in size than the average westerner – don’t complain.

But he admits that while airlines can get away with offering 17″ or less on longhaul flights of 12 to 14 hours, and “people will put up with it”, the configuration is far from ideal and “it’s simply not comfortable”.

In offering sub 17″ seats on its newest widebody, Airbus is entering somewhat dodgy territory insofar as the 9-abreast Boeing 787 with 17″ seat width or below is already inspiring passengers to write songs about their discomfort in-flight. And Airbus has already ruffled feathers by tweaking its A380 to accommodate 11-abreast with 18″ wide seats in comparison to the 19″ standard 10-abreast layout on the super jumbo.

Rao is the first to admit that the difference between 17” and 18” width is noticeable. He notes, for instance, that he recently flew on an A320 narrowbody that had been configured with wider aisles and 17” wide seats (deviating from the standard 18” wide seat on the A320 as compared to the standard 17” wide seat on the 737), and that he recognized the difference immediately.

But, he explains, “we have a few customers for regional operations that will choose a narrower seat. If you’re doing regional flights, with the A330 or potentially the A350, then a sub 17” seat works for them. And if they want to go 10-abreast, we offer the choice. The point of my story is that we offer the choice. Boeing cannot offer the choice therefore they are forced to give all of their customers a narrow seat, and in turn, their customers offer an inferior product.”

The Airbus executive stresses that the economics of the A350 don’t require airlines to “go to that level of compromise”, and declines to disclose the airlines which have chosen 10-abreast for the traditionally 9-across aircraft, saying “I can’t give you the names of the customers.” Flightglobal in May 2012 reported that AirAsia X had ordered its A350s in two-class configuration, with 10-abreast in economy.

However, Fernandes this spring suggested at the CAPA Aviation Summit that the carrier isn’t taking A350s when he said, “We’ve given up on the A350.” AirAsia “fought hard with Airbus for the [re-engined] A330neo, and we really believe in that aircraft”, which will support further growth, possibly to the US, he added.

16 Comments

  1. Paul

    Mr Leahy , 10 abreast, what happened to your proposal and publicity that all economy seats should be 18″ wide minimum, ? This was to counter balance the B-777X . Whatever you do the A-350 cabin width is still 18 ft-4 in versus the B-777X 19 ft-7in. Mr Leahy you are loosing credibility. Airbus deserves better.

    • Ivan

      Obviously the 10-abreast are meant for LCC, just like 9-abreast in A330. No Full service airlines apart from PAL used 9-abreast in A330 (To be honest, PAL is too shitty to be called full service carrier).

    • dufonrafal

      The standard configuration for the A320 neo, the A330 neo and the A350 XWB is 18″ (respectively in 6, 8 and 9 abreast).
      19″ for the A380 (in 10 abreast on main deck and 8 on upper deck).

      The standard configuration for the B737 MAX and the B787 is 17″ (respectively in 6 and 9 abreast).
      18″ for the B777X and B747-8i (respectively in 10 abreast, 10 abreast main deck and 6 upper deck).

      That’s the configurations used by Boeing and Airbus to make their performance figures (such as fuel economy) and market their planes. And the most choose by airliner.

      OK, the B787 was supposed to be a 8 abreast aircraft but things went differently and he’s not efficient enough in this configuration.

  2. Don

    Funny how they( Airbus) keep comparing the A350 to the B787. They (Airbus) still have not figured out that their own aircraft the A350 competes directly with the B777. The B787 competes directly with the A330/A330neo. So to compare the seat widths how about we actually compare Apples to Apples…..look at the seat width at 9 abreast on the B787 V’s A330. Or maybe because Airbus makes an inferior product then they stoop to compare two different sized aircraft to appear to come out ontop.

    • Ivan

      Actually, A350 are competitor of B787. Also Airbus Compared B787 with 8-abreast A330, not 9-abreast A330. Since 99% of Full service carrier used 8-abreast config on A330. Unlike 99% of full service carrier who uses 9-abreast B787.

  3. Jay

    Yeah, Leahy’s going against his own words in this one (previously saying that all economy seats should be 18″ minimum). Starting to lose confidence and respect in him.

    • Andrew

      You will notice that Leahy is addressing his statements to the travelling public, However the airlines executives
      know that it is false publicity and as you said Jay he is loosing respect, eventually Airbus will give him his slip if he does not
      shut up………….

  4. DanP

    If you read the article you would have seen that 99% of customers have chosen 9 abreast in economy for the A350, and only a few have asked for the 10 abreast (regional) config as they will be utilised in medium to short haul routes. It is after all the airlines who decide what configuration to use on their aircraft not Airbus and not Leahy.

    Then compare this to almost 99% of 787 Dreamliner customers have opted for 9 abreast seating which makes for very uncomfortable seating similar dimensions to a 10 abreast a350 at 17inch.

    I think I will avoid 9 abreast 787 at all costs thank you.

  5. Andrew

    I agree with you DanP, it is the airlines that decide on seats configuration not Airbus or Boeing, however Leahy is promoting that the minimum should be 18 inches wide and to the travelling public it is the the manufacturer that decide. His statement was simply to denigrate the B-777 with some airlines 10 seats abreast which is obviously less that 18 inches wide. By the way the cabin width of a B-787 is only 4 inches narrower than the A-350. Result: less than half an inch per seat . who cares

  6. Tim

    @ Andrew and yet most 787 seats are closer to 17″…

    I agree this isn’t Airbus, it’s the airlines that have ordered the 10 across layout that are to blame. Airbus are just trying to make it a bit less unpleasant. The danger here is that 16.9 is so close to the 17″ Emirates uses on 777s

  7. Andrew

    Just to make sure we compare apple with apple , hereafter are some numbers

    PLANE CABIN WIDTH STANDARD SEAT ACROSS

    B-767 15 ft 6 in 2-3-2

    A-330 17 ft 4 in 2-4-2

    B-787 18 ft 2-4-2

    A-350 18 ft 4 in 3-3-3

    B-777 19 ft 7 in 3-3-3

    If one compare the 330 to the 787 with 8 inches wider same seating across. more room on the 787
    now comparing the 787 to the 350 with 4 inches wider but one more seat across, 350 uncomfortable
    finally comparing the 350 to the 777 with 1 ft 3 in wider , same seating across , 777 more confortable.

    Obviously the airlines can play with the seat arrangement like 10 seat across for the 350 compare to the 747
    with 1 ft -9 in wider cabin width uncomfortable for the 350.

    What do you think Mr Leahy withy your 18 inches min…………………

    • Ivan

      Uhmm, are you retarded? 99% of airlines uses 3-3-3 on B787. Only LCC uses 3-3-3 on A330. Same goes for 3-4-3 on A350, only LCC uses that. Get Your FACTS straight.

  8. RH Hastings

    The issue is more complex than seat width/passenger comfort. Maybe it is obvious, maybe not….

    Foremost is airline economics. Airlines will squeeze as many pax as they can into the tube to some optimum revenue level. Some pax will refuse, most will not. Airframe manufacturers know pretty much in advance what those numbers are as they design their airframes.

    They know the routes, the forecasted pax sources/destinations, pax general/average size, etc. so, if Asia was the forecasted big growth source region is there a need for something larger, something with higher op cost? Something like that…

  9. KC Chew

    Airbus certainly “played” with the armrest for A350. The armrests are only 1.5″ in width. That’s how they can fit 18″ 9-abreast seat into a 221″ wide cabin. B787 can fit 17.2″ wide 9-abreast seats with the normal 2″ armrest in a 216″ cabin. Or 18.5″ width seat with 2″ armrest in 8-abreast. So B787 offer an even better choice but many airlines chose 9-abreast instead of 8 as Boeing originally had intended for long haul flights which B787 was designed for.