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In a move that should not surprise anybody, British Airways (BA) has announced it will be rolling out 10-abreast in Economy Class on the B777. Per LondonAirTravel:

BA announces at IAG Capital Markets Day 25 Boeing 777s will move from 9-10 seats a row in World Traveller & more seats on short-haul aircraft.

This isn’t the first time BA has dipped its toe in this Paxex quagmire – having experimented briefly with a 10-abreast layout on the B777 a decade ago, BA removed the type from service after deeming it unsuccessful. It seems current management have either forgotten the customer feedback (strong enough to merit an expensive retrofit away from 10-abreast), or simply do not care for it. Of similar concern is the predictable spin attached to the release. As per a BA spokesman:

“We are flying more customers than ever before to our expanding network of destinations. To meet this demand, we are updating our 777 cabins to bring us into line with many of our competitors and allow us to offer even more low fares.”

Probably best to take the above with a grain of salt. As was more than likely the case when BA announced the stopping of free catering on short-haul flights as a result of customer feedback, their PR department is clearly in overdrive. Could be where all those catering savings are going…

What does this mean then?

Ultimately, British Airways is likely to offer less width than ultra low-cost-carriers. Using data from www.flightmaestro.net, the outlook for those determined to fly BA Economy Class is bleak.

777-cross-section

Credit: Runway Girl Network

If we take even just the industry averages for each of these layouts (a mild liberty in BA’s favour, as they often opt for seat designs below this), passengers on BA’s future B777s can expect an Economy Class seat width of 17.1”. That is almost an inch less than the 9-abreast average (18”), and a full 2.5” less than the industry maximum for 9-abreast layouts. For passengers in aircraft offering 9-abreast, passenger feedback gives a satisfaction rating of 72% and can be as high as 89% – excellent in an industry in which it is difficult to please everyone. Throw in an extra seat, as planned by BA, and the score plummets to 58% – that’s in line with some of the most cramped low-cost-carrier B737 layouts out there.

To put this into context, the average seat width of the domestic B737 and A320s out there (you know, the planes favoured by Ryanair, easyJet and Spirit Airlines), is 17.7”. BA is likely to offer 0.6” less width to Economy Passengers than low- and ultra-low cost carriers, on their long-haul fleet. And this isn’t to even explore the flow on consequences of this dense layout – narrower aisles, narrower armrests and footwell obstructions. I’ll be looking at these in future, dedicated posts.

British Airways appears to be in a race – with Norwegian, easyJet and Ryanair – to the bottom.

For this author, the B777 in its infancy represented something of a Paxex gold standard for those destined for the back of the aircraft. Designed by Boeing for 9-abreast layouts, Economy Seats averaged over 18”, one could cartwheel down the aisles and armrests could accommodate a full arm. Life was good. This happy Paxex utopia was changed by an unlikely candidate.

The 10-abreast layout (and with it, very-high-density seating on other aircraft) entered the mainstream most prominently with Emirates, and gave carriers such as BA ample brand-cover to pursue similarly unfriendly layouts for passengers.

Today, 9-abreast on the Boeing has tragically become something of an enigma. Airlines touting it are lauded for continuing what used to be the bare minimum of expectations, especially for an aircraft designed primarily with ultra long distances in mind. Carriers such as Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific (for now) and Virgin Australia are notable exceptions to the new rule and, by no mere coincidence, continue to be Paxex powerhouses.

bp_9_results-2

So what?

Do not be fooled. Since Alex Cruz (BA CEO, with a successful career in Low Cost Carriers) took the helm, BA appears to have implemented a schedule of monthly service announcements detailing, in some form or another, further decimation of the Economy Passenger experience, often ostensibly as a result of “customer feedback” (because, it seems, BA passengers always yearn for receiving less for the same price – I’d love to be a fly on the wall of those focus groups). They also, without fail, note that it will result in lower fares. This has never happened.

Those out there with even a basic understanding of marketing and branding will be aware of a lesson as old as capitalism: your brand identity is determined by those you deem to be your competitors. With Alex Cruz repeating the names Norwegian, Ryanair and easyJet almost exclusively since his arrival, it doesn’t take a high flyer to know BA’s final destination.

www.flightmaestro.net

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Posted by Tom

Tom is a consultant and founder of FlightMaestro.net, the online travel tool that rates, ranks and dissects every facet of in-flight passenger experience. All views expressed are his own.

2 Comments

  1. […] move isn’t without its passenger experience consequences. As I’ve been through on previous posts, taking just the industry averages for each of these layouts, Cathay’s future B777s can be […]

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  2. […] for this choice. The passenger comfort gulf between 9- and 10-abreast is startling (check out some analysis done previously here), and you should be wary of which airlines use which […]

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