Airbus revisits A380 3-5-3 economy, adds “around 80 seats”

As Airbus seeks to revitalise sales of its flagship A380, the company is continuing to develop new “Cabin Enabler” options for densifying the aircraft, unveiling new options for the front and rear staircase.

Together with four other previously discussed offerings, the changes are set to raise the passenger count on the aircraft by “around 80 seats with the same comfort level versus current deliveries”. Yet Airbus is still pushing the eleven-abreast, 3-5-3 economy densification option on airlines — though quietly, at its partner seatmaker Geven’s booth at the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo, and without the most controversial part of the configuration: the window seat. Indeed, a survey on the seats asks airlines to rate aisle width without the presence of an actual aisle.

Some — but certainly not all — of Airbus’ “Cabin Enablers” are passenger experience neutral. No airline uses the A380’s large staircases for a significant part of passengers’ journey, so there is no real detriment to swapping them out. Indeed, reclaiming space at the front of the cabin may enable new options for airlines to make further innovations in the passenger experience, whether that space is used for first, business, premium economy or regular economy class flyers.

Other cabin enablers are very much not passenger experience neutral, despite Airbus claim that it is “freeing more cabin floor space for no compromise on comfort level”. The idea of adding a seat in every economy row was received with opprobrium at almost every corner at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in 2015, and despite the return of eleven-abreast, there were no full-size A380 cabin seating mockups available to view on the Airbus stand.

Instead, just the centre five seats were on show at a single seatmaker, Geven. Notably, in 2015 there had been two seatmakers offering 3-5-3 options on Airbus’ behalf, but only one was on show in 2017. And while both Airbus vice president for cabin marketing Ingo Wuggetzer and Geven’s managing director Alberto Veneruso suggested that there had been improvements — including on the way that the centre seats were fixed to the cabin floor — details on how these were purported to have resolved the passenger experience issues from two years ago were not forthcoming.

In 2015, the principal criticism was the ultra-cramped nature of the window seat. Image: John Walton

Clipboards containing a survey titled “11-abreast Economy Class Seat Validation” were placed on the Geven stand’s centre section mockup, asking for comments on:

  1. “Overall how do you rate the 11-abreast Economy Class seat concept?”, rating in five categories from very good, rather good, neutral, rather poor and very poor
  2. The same ratings for seat width, aisle width (despite there being no aisle), recline, cushioning, headrest, seat table, and foot space
  3. “Do you see any obstacles, which prevent you from integrating this 11-abreast seat concept into your aircraft in the future?” with an open comment section for the “yes” box.
  4. “Would you be interested to integrate this 11-abreast seat concept in your aircraft cabin?, with options “yes, linefit only”, “yes, line- and retrofit”, and “no”
  5. “Do you have any improvement suggestions or additional comments?”

Airbus quized airlines on the comfort of 3-5-3 A380 seating without having the window trio of seats present. Image: John Walton

Premium economy passengers, meanwhile, will not welcome the change from a 2-4-2 layout to 3-3-3, since one of the key benefits of previous premium economy cabins has been the reduced number of middle seats and absence of the “double-hop” for window seat passengers to stretch their legs.

Frankly, passengers don’t want 5-abreast middle sections, even ignoring the contorted middle seat. Image: John Walton

The current benefits of the densification moves include a 23-seat gain from an 11-abreast economy class, although it is unclear why this is just 23 seats, since most A380 operators have more than 23 rows of economy on the main deck and the increase should be a full seat per row.

A new rear stair option — combinable with a new galley module or standalone — finds a further 14 seats, while a new forward stair (removing the signature sweeping staircase of the A380) adds approximately 20 seats to the total. The forward stair is relocated from doors 1 to doors 2, and combines the stairway from the main deck to the upper deck with the stairway from the main deck to the lower deck crew rest.

A smaller forward stairway is a new option on the A380. Image: Airbus

Removing upper deck sidewalls (6 seats), adding a combined crew rest (3 seats), and moving to a nine-abreast premium economy cabin (11 seats) round out the options list.

These options, of course, only add up to 77 seats, but the variance would appear to down to the specific cabin requirements selected by the airframer’s airline customers. Airbus places in a careful footnote the information that its “around 80 seats” relies on the fact that “497 passengers is the airline’s average capacity of the A380s currently in operation today – which are consistently attracting above-average passenger load factors.

With all these A380 cabin enablers, the A380 seat count would move from 497 to 575 in four classes, and generate significantly more revenue for airlines” — but at what cost to Airbus’ long-touted “I Fly A380” passenger experience reputational premium?

Airbus is adding two new options to enable A380 densification. Image: Airbus

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  1. RaflW

    The 2015 photo reminds one of the poor legroom in window seats of the E145, which was of course built as a short-haul regional feeder aircraft. Tolerable for 1.5 or maybe 2 hours. Not for 12 sectors! And I dare anyone to find a fan of any 5 abreast center section (other than back office accountants).

    I feel like all these densification factors are exacerbating the sorts of social media firestorms we see today with United in the U.S. Of course people are upset at the actual video, but they are fanning the flames so intensely, in my opinion, because everyone hates flying economy now, and suspects the passenger experience will just keep deteriorating.

    I’m not a social scientist, but I suspect we are packing some of our aircraft at or over the Darwinian tipping point. More brawls, social network blowback, and customer frustration to follow.

  2. Philippe Brun

    All of this is pathetic! How passengers, respectful of their own person and flying neighbours, can accept and tolerate flying under such conditions??? Even the Premium Y offer, here, offers a decrease in elbow room. Although I truly realize that carriers are flying people for fares that are way, way , way under the value they should be, cramping low contributors for hours and hours of flying will just give air travel a bad(er) name! I don’t think Juan Trippe had even envisioned his air travel for the masses project to that extend! Let’s face it; the day fuel cost will outrageously rise again when the Chinese economy will re-take-off, the air travel industry will have to think-over its viably lucrative market target and come to the conclusion that air travel is no more accessible for the middle class, as its income and wealth is steadily weakening…unless plans are to fly low contributors standing up!

  3. Fergal

    The use of staggered seating as seen in the AIX expo would assist the 11 abreast… But the other alterations seem pretty doable without much customer irritation.

  4. I currently fly on Virgins A340’s as they are 2-4-2 in economy. Hate the 2-5-2 of the 777’s. Not looking forward to 3-3-3 or 2-5-2 of the new 787’s or A350’s.

  5. flystar

    Whoever still remembers flying on a 747 with 2-4-3 seating and remembers the change to 3-4-3 seating had a deja-vu with the 3-3-3 of a the 777 going away. And thank you, Boeing, for designing a 787 with 2-4-2 and then silently changing it to 3-3-3 from the start (with very few exeptions).
    Hey, 2-5-2 on Tristars and some DC-10 was crap too. But at least we had a pitch that was great.
    Sorry folks, it will happen. When they were able to fill the 747 with 3-4-3, they did it. We might have the chance, that in the A380 they will create a super budget section. Hey, it will still be more pleasant than a 2-4-2 B767 or a 3-3-3 A330. Enough people will are happy to put up with those even more narrow seats to save a few bucks. I just hope they will give us the coice in both directions.

  6. Kcnarf

    yes, there is more than 23 centre rows on A380 main deck, but if you install premium btw M1-M2, considering the conical section where quint seats couldn’t be installed and adapt the number of lavatories & trolley to compensate the comfort ratio you’ll reach 23 only…

  7. Glen Towler

    This will not help to sell a single extra A380 it has had it’s day and no airline is interested in buying anymore. Also I so pleased that one single airline has choosen extra seating that would make it so uncomfortable to fly economy.

  8. Will

    They just need to make a small stretch on the A380. Just adding say 4-5 rows is going to make a huge difference .. and make more use of the oversize wings