Airbus Airspace cabin is built with Coach Comfort in mind

We all know that in first class and business class you can create beautiful spaces. But most passengers make their way to the back of the airplane and that’s where the squeeze is on.

The new Airspace by Airbus cabin concept was released this week and, for once, an aircraft interior launch appeared to be focused squarely on the 3 billion travelers who board a flight each year in the back of the plane. That’s not to say premium cabins were ignored – they were not – but multiple Airbus executives took the stage in London or sat with media throughout the event and they were all actually excited about the economy class cabin, shifting the conversation in that direction rather than trying to avoid such discussions. Ingo Wuggetzer, Airbus’ VP marketing summed up the feeling well early in the day, explaining that Airbus wants “to create an awareness and desire for passengers to fly more comfortable”. And he was quite clear: This is not just about big spenders in the lie-flat beds.

Have we finally found a product truly designed around the volume of passengers more than just the theory of luxury which can be delivered up front?

Arguably most important is that Airbus is sticking to its 18″ seat width for 8-abreast coach, with a good portion of the presentation spent talking about both the actual and perceived benefits the “extra inch” brings to each passenger. Comfort and Ambiance are two of the four design pillars the Airspace cabin is driven by and both benefit from that extra width. But seat width is not the only area where Airbus is focused. The company is quick to point out that the new Airspace layout takes advantage of the nextgen v4 entertainment systems design which dramatically reduces the impact of the seat box on legroom. Again, just an inch here or there under the seat but that makes a big difference, especially for taller passengers already feeling the squeeze.

telefonix 300That does not mean, however, that everything about the economy cabin is going to be more spacious. Airbus still plans to add an extra row or so of seats with a comparable comfort level to the prior iteration of the cabin. This comes through use of the Space-Flex galley/lav design and other, small tweaks which add up throughout the cabin to eke out the inches necessary for the extra seats. Wuggetzer described some of these tweaks, saying, “We have a new location for the crew rest. We [have] done smart lifts in a way that the interior space is the same but due to how we do the piping and electricity the outer dimension gets smaller. By combining those smart monuments you collect inch-by-inch, then you get a row. It is not one element; it is a set of elements with different needs from different airlines based on their needs and segmentation.”

Of course, all of this optimism could come crashing down in a hurry if airlines decide to push the density issue to 9-abreast. And, just like on the A380 and the A350 and the A330ceo, Airbus executives acknowledged that the company would facilitate that decision if an airline customer chose it. The 9-abreast option remains alive in the A330neo fuselage, sacrificing seat width below the 18″ comfort standard the company is pushing. That would be a shame from a customer perspective but it would be naïve to believe it will not happen at some point.

So, does the coach experience in the new A330neo cabin have a chance to be great? Based on what Airbus is showing off so far the answer is a resounding yes. And probably even worth dealing with the smaller lavs and the logo etched on the windows to get there.


  1. RaflW

    I guess the question is, how can the end-user even influence the airline decisions? Beyond paying up to Y+ or W class (at considerable expense!), what can a coach flier realistically do to say to the airlines that have gone to 3-4-3 in the back of 777s, or using 17″ seats on the 787? Not much, except stay home I guess.
    I think things will continue to get more uncomfortable for most of the 3 billion coach pax, as it is very hard on most routes to find an affordable, market-based choice that at least grants you an inch here and there, especially on width.

    • Travelers are driving the push for ever more seats that have less width and pitch – by purchasing the cheapest fare no matter what. It does require that travelers educate themselves about the planes they’ll be on BEFORE they buy the ticket!
      When people stop buying tickets from airlines who are putting 3-3-3 layouts with a 29in pitch into their planes, they will stop doing it…
      Or, the more people are buying Economy Plus with more legroom, or Premium Economy with more width/pitch, the more we will see that differentiation.
      I think it’s already happening with more and more airlines rolling out those premium products. And that’s great: people who want the lowest price and don’t care about how miserable they’ll be can fly Economy- and people who want more space can fly Economy+ – everybody is happy!

  2. malcolm johnson

    Leg room is, for some tall passengers, an important issue. Airlines need to consider having a percentage of seats on every long haul flight available for very tall passengers – over 1.8m or6’2″ who do not fit into regular airline seating.
    An increasing number of passengers are not accommodated in seating legroom – a health related issue as deep vein thrombosis can be caused from cramped seating.
    The focus is always on seat width – certainly important for the obese among us – who can sometimes resolve their obesity without needing an additional seat – those of us who are very tall ( i’m 2m) – cannot do anything about our height.
    Please consider this issue in the recommended distance between seating and the number of available exit/bulk head rows per aircraft – at no additional charge to those who can sit nowhere else.
    Malcolm Johnson

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  4. This all reminds me of the early days of the 787 program, when Boeing talked up 18″ wide seats in an 8 abreast design, and a wide open, arched entry way that looked fantastic in the renderings and early models. Then reality hit when the planes started getting delivered with 17″ wide 9 abreast seats and galleys filling the space of that grand entrance area, so that more seats could fit in the back. Airbus’s own acknowledgement that if a customer pushes for more density, they’ll do it, makes me wonder just how much of this we’ll ever see when the airplanes are delivered. Call me skeptical, but we’ve been down this road before, only to end up disappointed in the end.

    • Seth Miller

      I completely agree with the skepticism, except that for now airlines are still taking them with the 8-abreast config. That will change eventually, I’m sure, at least for the LCCs or some in Asia where the ceo models are already 9-abreast. But Airbus also claims that the CASM numbers are sufficiently low at 8-abreast that the airlines do not need to go to 9. That said, airlines are renown for squeezing margins ever tighter when they think they can get away with it, so….

  5. Fergal

    I think airline should have a 3-3-3 layout on the back of the plane (door 3-4), and assign budget prices to these seats, with luggage/food etc. Included or as add-on, and as such become kore hybridized offering LCC areas on their fleets. Doors 2-3 offer a combo of premium econ and/or extra legroom 2-4-2 cabins, as well as std 2-4-2 econ legroom.

    The reason is the disparity with what a customer pays versus what they get in economy .

    Currently you can pay $500 or $1500 for the same product in econ. Most passengers will be happy with their ‘seat’ if they know what they are getting (and get it) for the price they actually pay. You want to ‘get their’… Sit in the back… You want width… Sit in the middle… You want width and leg space… Front of middle… Etc.

    • Seth Miller

      This is definitely a possibility as airlines move to differentiate more and more within the same fuselage. We’ll have to see if a carrier takes to the idea.