Airbus is planning a new economy seat that's several inches wider than even most premium economy and domestic business class seats.
The 'Extra Wide Seat', as Airbus has so cleverly christened it, is an aisle seats which measures a generous 20 inches instead of the usual 18 inches.
But you don't get something for nothing: in order to accommodate this bigger bench, the middle and window seats are "trimmed" to 17 inches -- the same size as economy seats on the slightly narrower Boeing 737.
Airbus intends to offer the Extra Wide Seat as an option on its A320 jets.
Airlines can then market the seat to larger passengers or anyone who fancies a bit of extra seat width – as long as they're prepared to pay extra for it.
"We have a couple of airlines very highly interested" says Airbus' aircraft interiors exec Zuzana Hrnkova, who told Australian Business Traveller that Airbus has "tested the seat with a huge amount of US-based operators" -- although she admits that no airline had yet ordered the Extra Wide Seat.
Could the Extra Wide Seat find its way onto the larger A330, A350 or A380 planes? "We will see what's the next step" Hrnkova said. "If there is a request from the airlines, we'll study it."
Australian Business Traveller checked out the Extra Wide Seat at Airbus' Innovation Day in Toulouse this week.
The Extra Wide Seat, shown in blue, is an impressive and downright clever example of 'thinking different'.
A seat width of 20 inches compares very with many airlines' international premium economy or domestic business class seats.
Qantas' premium economy A380 seats and domestic business class 737 seats are 19.5 inches wide, as are Virgin Australia's international premium economy Boeing 777 seats and domestic business class 737 seats.
Qantas' second-generation international business class Skybed, by comparison, is 22.5 inches wide.
Hrnkova reckons that an extra inch of width has a "feel factor" of an extra 1.6 inches in seat pitch. (Seat pitch is the technical measurement airlines use to talk about legroom, but in this case it's a direct relationship: 1.6 inches of pitch means 1.6 inches of extra legroom.)
The stumbling block may be airline economics and practicalities, though. If airlines install the new seats throughout the cabin, there's nothing to stop passengers picking a middle or window seat and gambling that they'll be able to slide on over into the wider aisle if there are any left.
And airlines that use more than one type of plane (in other words, most of them) would have a tricky time guaranteeing the presence of the extra wide seat-equipped planes on any one flight.
So over to you: how much would you be prepared to pay for a wider seat in economy? Would you pay up for a guaranteed wider seat, or skip the extra charge and hope to snag one on the sly? Sound off in the comments below.
Also from Airbus' Innovation Days this week in Toulouse:
- why business travellers will love the A350 XWB
- Photos: Airbus A350 business class designs showcase long-haul luxe
John Walton travelled to Toulouse to attend the Airbus Innovation Days as a guest of Airbus. Catch up with all the news from the Innovation Days!