PHOTO TOUR: do slimline Economy seats deserve the extra legroom hype?

By John Walton, November 3 2011
PHOTO TOUR: do slimline Economy seats deserve the extra legroom hype?

Slimline seats are supposed to make flying in economy bearable again: more legroom (and especially more knee-room) without sacrificing travellers' comfort or airlines' passenger numbers.

The key to them is a thinner backplate, less padding and a new internal support structure -- plus moving the literature pocket up to eye level instead of where you put your knees.

Last week Australian Business Traveller had the chance to try these seats out on two Lufthansa domestic flights, using the new Recaro slimline seats which Lufthansa is fitting to its new Airbus A320 family of domestic and short-haul planes.

So we thought we'd bust the airline press photo bubble -- without the usual impossibly tiny people smiling happily or fish-eye lenses making it seem like you could do handsprings in the seats -- and show you what they're really like in the air.

The first thing you notice is that the seatback has been rearranged. It still looks like an Economy seat, but it's a cleaner and more modern design feel (as you'd probably expect from a new style of seat).

Overall, these seats are a big improvement, and extra legroom was noticeable even at the back of the plane.

The seats give at least two inches of usable space over the usual economy legroom, perhaps three.

The seat covers Lufthansa has chosen are a soft leather, and were remarkably well padded. They didn't feel any more or less squashy than a regular economy seat.

At the top is a literature pocket, but you're unlikely to be able to fit anything else into it -- it's pretty full with the inflight magazine, shopping catalogue, safety card and airsickness bag.

The only storage space for the seat that you can use yourself is a small section of netting that might just hold a book or an iPad, but isn't likely to be useful to store a laptop.

But don't worry that you'll feel the knees of a tall person behind you: behind the small netting (for your bottle of water or whatever) there's a plastic plate. It's slightly flexible, but you won't feel knees through it.

A coathook at each seat is a useful touch, especially on domestic flights where business travellers are more likely to be wearing a suit jacket. This also helps to keep jackets out of the overhead compartments -- a real pain in chillier climes when you're late to board and trying to fit your bag in the bins.

There's a full-sized table if you want to get some work done -- and with the extra space that the slimline seats give, you're able to avoid some of the "my 17" laptop won't open fully on this table" problem.

But beware: the angle when it's open is precisely the wrong angle for catching your laptop screen if the person in front reclines suddenly. (Try asking them nicely to let you know if they're planning to do that.)

Overall, these seats are superb, and a useful innovation to make economy class more comfortable. However, they're only a benefit if airlines maintain their current seating numbers to give each passenger more room.

If, instead, they pack in an extra row or two, there's no real difference in what you'll experience on board.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.


15 Apr 2011

Total posts 582

I agree with your review - massive improvement over what we've seen before... Though I did find that the base of the seat itself wasn't particularly long, after a couple of hours my thighs started to get a bit sore because the support didn't extend as close to the knees as the other seats... 

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24 Aug 2011

Total posts 783

am you're right - that seat base looks like it could be a bit painful after an hour or so. Would be curious to see how the minimalistic padding holds up after six months. 

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 667

Huh, interesting. The longest flight I took was German domestic Hamburg-Frankfurt, so only just under an hour, and the seat was perfectly comfortable for that time -- and I'm 6'2" tall.

12 Jul 2011

Total posts 76

Imagine how much worse its going to be when you have a little kid sitting behind you (who will inevitably kick the seat).

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 667

Actually, I did a sneaky test of that: had a travelling companion sit in the seat in front of me and kneed it a couple of times. It's surprisingly similar (if not a little less noticeable because of the hard plastic shell at knee level) to oldschool economy.

08 Oct 2011

Total posts 52

What about seats for long and ultra long haul flights? Will the literature rack contents gets in the way of a entertainment screen? 

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