Airline reveals its concerns about new Airbus lavatory/galley option

As airlines work to increase passenger density on existing airframes the push to reduce everything else on board is very real. For the Airbus A320 family of planes the Space-Flex v2 lavatory/galley option being developed in partnership with Zodiac is one solution to this challenge and multiple airlines are understood to be considering it. Space-Flex v2 has certain benefits, namely it adds extra space for seats, but there are also very real challenges associated with the design, especially for full-service airlines. One potential customer has been reviewing the offering, but tells RGN, “No group other than finance was enthusiastic about it.” From a passenger comfort and employee ergonomics perspective this airline saw it as a poor fit, and also expressed safety concerns.

For passengers the main issue could prove to be lavatory size. Space-Flex v2 does offer a single American with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant lavatory, which is a positive feature for a narrowbody aircraft. But unlike Space-Flex v1 – which features a swinging partition between two lavatories to accommodate passengers with reduced mobility – Space-Flex v2’s lavatories have a fixed partition, and a wheelchair-bound passenger must transfer to a tip-up seat and then, unassisted, to the toilet seat. The lav is a tighter fit for passengers. And the layout creates access challenges as passengers negotiate between the jumpseat to enter/leave the lav, suggests the airline that spoke to RGN on condition of anonymity. This also creates a greater risk for employees or other passengers being struck by a door as they open/close in such tight quarters. And if the flight attendants have carts out before or after a meal/drink service access to the lavatories may be blocked because of the limited floor space available.

Space-Flex v2 lavatory view_

Space-Flex v2 lavatory view

For the airlines, despite gaining the extra seating space, there may be other drawbacks as well. Some of the cited challenges, such as only one coffee pot in the rear galley, seem a bit trivial. Other challenges press against FAA regulations, presenting scenarios which flight attendants may struggle with or reject. The carrier that spoke to RGN suggests that rubbish collection, for example, becomes significantly more difficult with the limited space. The reduced number of cart positions means no dedicated trash carts in the Space-Flex v2 layout; all collection would happen in bags.

That alone is not a deal breaker, but there is minimal space to store the bags once the trash is collected; most likely flight attendants would need to transfer the contents from bags to a trash bin or compactor. The limited space would also preclude separation of recyclable materials and could potentially cause overflow of the space, requiring full rubbish bags to be stored in overhead bins (yuck!) or in the lavatories (FAA violation), suggests the airline. The FAA tells RGN, “Airbus has not applied to the FAA for the Space-Flex interior, so we do not have any information on this interior layout and cannot comment at this time.” EASA did not respond to a request for comment.

Airbus head of aircraft interiors marketing Zuzana Hrnkova addressed the garbage challenges when she told RGN that the design was finalized with “validation from airline representatives” so that there has been some buy-in from the stakeholders. Moreover, she noted that most of the customers so far “don’t really [offer] a full service….so there is not a lot of waste generated”. That may work for some LCCs but for the full-service carriers other options such as an integrated trash compactor (still in development) would be used to help offset the loss of space. If still more space is needed, additional galley monuments can be installed, though that reduces the number of additional seats the airline will be able to fit in the plane.

Airbus Space-Flex slide

Other safety concerns raised by the airline include the double-deep ovens and increased burn risk when accessing the rear rack and a more constrained workspace, increasing risk of strains and sprains. Similarly, some of the cart positions become three-deep rather than the current two-deep maximum. The logistics of moving the carts around in the galley space – and, particularly, storing the full cart behind the half cart during turbulence – presents a challenge which could further expose flight attendants to greater risks. With such injuries costing the airline $25,000+ per incident on average these risks cannot be overlooked, says the airline.

Specifically addressing the service preparation and galley cart issue, Airbus’ Hrnkova suggested that minor adjustments to airline operational procedures could solve many of the issues. “After the take-off cabin crew can start preparing the service [while the seat belt sign is illuminated]. Cabin crew can start their service before the passengers are allowed to move in the cabin,” she said.

When talking about the potential for spatial issues related to lavatory access and jumpseats, Hrnkova noted,

“The seat is used for takeoff and landing. It is not used during the flight phase. On the type of sectors which the A320 operates the cabin crew are busy with the service, with onboard sales and afterwards preparing the aircraft for landing. So the seat is not used during the flight phase.”

This is true for shorter flights, however a number of airlines use A319s and A320s on longer stage lengths. The North America market, in particular, sees Air Canada, American, United, JetBlue and Virgin America all operating A320s with an average block time of greater than 140 minutes, according to flight data based on OAG schedules for 3 August 2015.

Longer stage lengths also generally mean more “stuff” in the galley, whether snacks, drinks or garbage collection. Airbus’ Hrnkova spoke to this topic, noting that there is an add-on option for the Space-Flex v2 layout which can meet those airlines’ needs. “What we believe is going to happen is that version 2, with increased half-size trolley capacity, will mainly be selected by low-cost operators. However, for full-service carriers, if they have more catering requirements, there is still possibility to integrate on the right hand side the three-trolley galley and compensate the galley capacity. In any case there is a gain of three seats which is very good and the capability to offer full service to passengers.”

The loss of roughly a third of the storage space on the A320 already means cuts must happen somewhere. Compounding those cuts with design options which could increase risks to the crew presents a conflict. Thus far the Space-Flex product is seeing adoption in the LCC markets. Vueling has deployed v1 of the offering (the Airbus-own option) and JetBlue is expected to use the newer v2 (Airbus/Zodiac option) as part of the company’s retrofit of its A320 fleet, adding 15 seats.

Can the Space-Flex v2 design work on board, even for a full-service carrier? Absolutely. But compromises must be made to get to a workable solution. And, based on the design validation and planning from Airbus it seems clear that there are very different use cases, some of which will be more successful than others.

Airbus explains Space-Flex v1 in the video below; as mentioned, there are material differences between v1 and v2.

12 Comments

  1. Nice article, it is correct that the seats are typically only used during TTL, or taxi take off and landing for short haul flights. Unless its a long haul flight, then there will be opportunities for discomfort while the seats are being used. But the airlines stands to gain a lot with 6 more seats, while trying their best to accommodate everyone. Its a huge engineering task to design manufacture and certify these monuments per FAA regulations, I talk more about it at http://www.stressebook,com.

  2. Glen Towler (@NZAircraftFan)

    They don’t look that big to me but I guess I would have to see it for myself. The airlines like Qantas don’t really care about disabled passengers as I said on facebook page they have made the Lavs so very small there almost painful to use

  3. KTM

    As a Professional Flight Attendant, for a U.S. Major – I fly the A320/A319 cross-country, daily; IAD-SFO, EWR-SFO, PHL-SFO, etc. Onboard our A320/319’s we have two LAV’s at Door 2L. One just forward of 2L and one, aft of 2L. The FA’s jumpseat is located on the forward ‘bulkhead’, at Door 2L. When the FA’s are setting up the Carts for the Service, many times, we park a Cart in front of the Aft LAV (due to limited space) to set-up the Meal (Buy Onboard) Cart, just prior to taking both Carts out into the aisle. If the seatbelt sign is turned off – Passengers head for the LAV’s, thereby causing a log jam in the Galley/LAV area at Door 2L/2R. The FA’s then have to adjust the Carts, which at times is impossible, due to the “Number of Passengers” waiting to use the LAV. (They, the Passengers, simply look at you when you ask them to move out of the way, so you can adjust the Carts….frustrating.) After the Service is completed, we the FA’s then sit, yes sit on our Jumpseat at door 2L – this causes the Passengers who need to use the LAV, aft of 2L to have to open the LAV door and squeeze past the Jumpseat. Often times, the Passenger(s) just bang into the FA’s, with no apologies, no excuse me… as if the FA can go somewhere to get out of their way? Most times, it the FA’s sit on the Jumpseat to ‘Take a break’ and get off our feet for a few minutes, the Aft LAV door is Locked-Off, forcing all Passengers to use the forward LAV at 2L. This New ‘Space Saving’ design will cause much chaos, in a space that is already tight to begin with. Boeing has already designed their new ‘Slimline LAV’s’ for the B737 and it is horrid. Passengers complain on every flight, how tight and small the LAV’s are. However, the Airline was able to get an additional 6 Slimline seats into Economy. Comfort be damned.

  4. john

    ADA doesn’t apply to airlines. You care thinking of ACAA

    @Paul
    The E90 already has this potencial hygiene issue in production

  5. Todd

    I fly 125,000+ miles a year; I agree with KTM in all respects (although I actually speak to the FA if they’re in a lav-proximity jumpseat, rather than just blindly attacking them with a door 🙂 )

    I would also have concerns about the idea of starting cabin service ‘before the seatbelt sign is turned off.’ In most cases, once the seatbelt sign is off, many passengers need to use the lavs, especially if there’s been a long taxi (such as at congested airports like JFK). So that would create an aisle logjam as well as a lav logjam.
    Not ideal.

    Fore and aft lavs available to economy passengers, as on most 757s, work much better to avoid these jams, but I guess that doesn’t work for the cattle-car concept.

  6. RaflW

    Delta is going with the Spaceflex v1 on their A320/A319 refits. On a common stage length such as MSP-DEN, that should be OK. But with 144 coach pax, two tiny lavs adjacent to the galley, and conflicting jump seats, I can see long lines in the newly narrower aisle, and frustrated pax and FAs on some typical 3.5 to 4 hour A320 sectors for DL.
    21st century pro tip: Don’t drink much before or during flight.

  7. Jean Livingston

    I see the new design as an accident waiting to happen. Why not instead use the space that is suppose to house six additional seats for 2 jump seats and room for carts to move out of the passenger lavatory line. I can just picture a wheel-chair bound person in the line that usually forms after the seat belt sign goes off, waiting for the two lavs to become one and then the remaining passengers “patiently” waiting for the facilities to again become two again. This newly designed layout may look good on paper but not in action.

  8. Jon Allen

    “Space-Flex is a key enabler to achieve up to +6 seats”

    From what demented marketing committee did that line emanate?

  9. julius grafton

    If the airlines MUST squeeze in extra seats, why not leave 1 x lav and install 1 ‘space flex’ style lav in the galley, so there is still a little more cart room and a little less Jump Seat argy-bargy? Oh wait, that would be a compromise, wouldn’t it?

  10. Anonymous crew member

    Having used this layout for the past year I can give a flight attendants opinion from experience. My first issue is the quality of the materials used. The lower two sets of canisters are three deep. This causes many problems. Constantly removing canisters to get at what you need uses up space. If you need to get to the last canister you must remove the two in front (where to put them?). It is not possible to reach the third canister without using the pulley system that slides it forward. This breaks very often. My airline has many planes with this set up and almost all of them have at least one broken pulley and these are not being replaced. This means you then CANNOT access the last canister to even search it when carrying out preflight checks (safety). I have seen people stand on canisters and lean all the way into the space but one slip and you’d break your neck.
    Space for trash was mentioned in the article. My airline uses bags but does not have any means to compact and recycling is just putting those materials in a different bag. With more than one bag in the back galley it becomes difficult to open the toilet door on the right so we walk the trash back through the aisle to put it in the front galley.
    Space to turn double sized trolleys is very limited and there can be no other crew or passengers in the galley when doing this. Crew were obviously not a consideration in this layout as again two of the trolley stashes are three deep or one double and one single so you use limiting what little space you have when trying to get at something in the rear trolley.
    The seat on the door has caused numerous problems. Mainly that the seat is so heavy that it affects the doors closing and locking ability resulting in the toilet being closed and often sealed for weeks at a time. Stringers materials have been used in the newer ones with very limited success. Also passengers do not even realise that there is a toilet there because having the seat on the door just looks so strange and un-doorlike. Without crew pointing it out most people just wait for the other one. When they do use the toilet with the seat on it they often have problems closing the door as it is just so heavy and often requires assistance to push is closed from the outside.
    The toilets themselves are ridiculously small. The article mentions the disabled access is by sliding onto a flip down seat and then onto the toilet unassisted. If the person is any bigger than a child then this feat is impossible. I’m sure they did lots of testing but anyone of average size would slip off the small slide seat as it is only about 5 or 6 inches at its widest point.
    The whole layout inside the toilet is just strange. Too many little cubby holes means more searching for crew but also the trash flap is not obvious when looking to throw the papers towels and so many people just leave them in the sink or throw them on the floor or use the sickbag dispenser. The hand towel dispensers can only manage a small handful of hand towel and so need constant replenishing. Above the smallest sink you have even seen is a panel which has a callbell and a socket for a shaver. The panel warps because if gets wet constantly and the socket is a serious hazard as it so close to the tap. Getting to the hot water switch under the sink is a challenge and the catch often breaks meaning there is yet another place that cannot be adequately searched.
    Finally, the ice box. Small than a box for baby shoes. We often use this config for longer flights but the ice runs out half way through the first service and from then on, tough luck. Next to the ice box is a small shelf with a small sink to pour waste water. To do this though the small shelf cannot have anything on it at all. There is a small fold down grill which must be folded up as trying to pour through the grill makes a big mess. You cannot open any of the small cupboards or the ice box either if there is anything on the shelf.
    All in all this is a terrible design that gets nothing but complaints from crew. Cheap materials used, bad layout and no thought for crew at all.

    All in all, there is far less space for crew, smaller crew seat, stupid crew seat, stupid toilets, stupid crew seat on door, no room to do anything without bashing into everything.

  11. Rebel !

    Hello,
    We are using it on our A 320’S retrofit aircraft (186PAX)
    The width of the toilet is the width of the crew seat. If you’re large, it’s challenging to go in this tiny toilet.
    The PAX touch your seat to go in and go out from the toilets, and everybody knows how clean are our passengers.
    In case of severe unexpected turbulence,,if you’re three cabin crew at the back, you need to let the pax in the toilet !
    The think in the toilet is so small, that you can’t wash your hands without dropping water everywhere….
    It’s almost impossible to remove the double cart close to the door during climbing as their is no space to turn it.
    The pulleys to remove the third canister are already broken after 6 months of use !
    When you need something in the third canister, you need first to remove 2 canisters and they’re no space to store them….
    The single trolley should be stored at the front of the double cart for take off and landing. And we’re are using the double cart for the service….
    The paint of this galley is already damaged after 6 months of use.
    Thank you zodiac to turn my job in a nightmare !

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