Seatmakers keep premium economy densification options close to chest

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As premium economy continues to grow both in importance and in installation base, and as many carriers are looking to gain space efficiency in narrowbody business/first recliner sections, seatmakers are expanding their range of premium economy options to get to the very edges of the niche. At the same time, manufacturers are moving towards simpler family-based products with add-on features to boost the premium feel. This family approach with more common parts between the upmarket and middle-market seating products will also mean added flexibility to offer narrower — or, putting a positive spin on it, potentially even wider — seats in premium economy.

“We’re seeing a lot more premium economy rising,” said Airbus vice president of upgrade services Xavier Bertran, yet interestingly none of the seatmakers RGN spoke with at the recent APEX and Aircraft Interiors Americas expos were keen to talk about offering denser premium economy seating for the Airbus A380. The European OEM has been pushing nine-abreast premium economy as a densification effort for the forwardmost cabin of the superjumbo’s main deck, where most carriers currently offer either first class or economy, and for which premium economy currently comes in a 2-4-2 arrangement. But some parallels can be drawn from the Boeing 767, which has particularly narrow premium economy seats when installed in a 2-2-2 layout, and from the 2-4-2 premium economy configuration on the Airbus A350.

Seatmaker Geven’s Max Guerriero confirmed to RGN that its current premium economy seating products — used on Alitalia, though not in the 767 context, for example — can accommodate narrower LOPAs. ZIM’s premium economy, the Lufthansa Group standard recently installed on Austrian’s 767 aircraft, can clearly be used on narrower configurations.

As premium economy seats go, Austrian’s is a basic implementation of the decent ZIM seat that Lufthansa and others already use. Image: Austrian Airlines

At the other end of the scale, Acro’s Series 7 premium economy seat is growing, not shrinking, in width. The company had previously intended to add side consoles to its recliners on wider configurations, but following feedback from airlines it will now be producing wider seats.

HAECO, meanwhile, notably omitted most of the the narrower configurations from a list of configurations specified to RGN by senior vice president of engineering José Pevida, which included “787/A350 on a 2-3-2, 777 on a 2-4-2, 767 on a 2-2-2, A330 on a 2-3-2, A380 on a 2-4-2” layout but not the 2-4-2 A350 or 3-3-3 A380 configurations.

Acro is in the process of updating its Series 7 recliner for premium economy and shorthaul business-first. Image: Acro

Reading between the lines and based on off-record conversations, part of the reluctance to talk 3-3-3 A380 revolves around the fact that premium economy remains so standardised today — perhaps the most standardised part of the market, indeed — that passengers know what they’re going to get when they buy a premium economy ticket much more than they do in any other class.

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That seems likely to continue to be the case even as several seatmakers predict substantial growth in the large recliner market from long-haul low-cost carriers like Jetstar, Scoot, AirAsia X, Norwegian, Level and others. The consensus seems to be that the market for the recliners as biz-lite front cabin offerings is about the same size as for in-the-middle premium economy cabins.

One industry longtimer told RGN that “my own personal opinion, within the longhaul market, is that we will absolutely with airframe development see the rise of the point to point international, rather than the hub and spoke international.”

There are very few airports that can command a full, business class, first class proposition, noted the senior executive, highlighting that they expect that level of demand is “only ever going to come from key airports like Heathrow, like New York, like LA, like Hong Kong, and everything else will probably look to therefore position a premium product as a non-flat bed, business class. You will see a kind of market segmentation, I think.”

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3 Comments

  1. Anastasia Steele

    I wonder how many airlines realise they are the cause of body conscious issues and depression? Making your seats narrower and the belts shorter, humiliates those of us who are not 5ft stick insects, but 6ft, comfortable and accepting that we will never be skinny humans whe deserve a bit of thought when planning seating. Longer belts would be a good place to start.

  2. Scanditraveller

    What do you mean by “the Boeing 767, which has particularly narrow premium economy seats when installed in a 2-2-2 layout”. The width of the 767 cross section allows for 20 inch wide PE seats in a 2-2-2 configuration when assuming 20 inch isles, 4 inch arm rests between seats and 2 inch arm rests towards windows/isles.

  3. Scott Wilson

    3-3-3 premium economy did exist on Air NZ 777-200ERs for some years, while economy was 3-3-3, with identical seats and 42″ pitch, but it was widely seen as poor value. For premium economy, one of the value propositions is being no more than one seat away from the aisle, and in an environment where Y on A380s is 3-4-3 (and increasingly on 777s), is 3-3-3 on A350s and 787s, then having pairs on the outer seats adds to the value. Given the often significant price premium for premium economy, no one paying that wants to have to squeeze past two people to get to the aisle, or have two people seek to do that to them. The trend of premium economy is looking increasingly like early business class of the 1980s, with the key difference being the degree of recline (except LCC premium carriers who can effectively offer an old fashioned business hard product at premium economy prices).