Airbus calls for bigger airline seats

Qatar Airways Economy ClassGoodbye to economy class crush seating? No more packed in like sardines? New research calls for bigger airline seats, revealing just one inch (or 2.54cm) extra makes all the difference.

Airbus is urging the aviation industry to set a minimum standard of 18 inches (45.72cm) to improve the comfort of long-haul air travel. The research conducted by Harley Street medical practice The London Sleep Centre using polysomnography to record every standard physiological sleep measurement – including monitoring brainwaves, eye, abdominal, chest and hip leg movement – on a selection of passengers revealed that a minimum seat width of 18 inches improved passenger sleep quality by 53% when compared to the 1950’s 17 inch standard.

All participants in the study were of average BMI with no record of health or sleep issues and were kept blind to the purpose of the study. Each completed a series of nights sleep in flight simulations re-creating long haul economy passenger experience, all variables were kept constant apart from the width of the seat which changed between 17 and 18 inches. The survey showed “limb twitches” were reduced by 11%.

The sleep centre’s Dr Irshaad Ebrahim says: “The difference was significant. All passengers experienced a deeper, less disturbed and longer nights’ sleep in the 18 inch seat. They went from one sleep stage to the next as you would expect them to do under normal circumstances. Whilst, in the narrower 17 inch seat the passengers were affected by numerous disturbances during sleep – which meant they rarely experienced deep restorative sleep.”

We’re flying more long hauls

When it comes to flying long haul in economy, an inch makes a huge difference on passenger comfort, he says.

This could turn into another seat-width spat between Airbus and competitor Boeing over economy class woes. But the facts remain:

  • Air transport has changed significantly over the last 50 years.
  • We’re flying more than ever before.
  • There are more passengers, flying further for longer distances.
  • In the last five years alone the number of flights over 6000 nautical miles (13+ hours flight time) has increased by 70% from 24 to 41 daily flights.
  • In 1998 no flight over 7000 nautical miles had ever taken place.
  • In the next 15 years passenger traffic will double and by 2032, the world’s airlines will take delivery of more than 29,220 new passenger and freighter aircraft.

Royal Brunei Economy ClassKevin Keniston, Airbus’ Head of Passenger Comfort says: “If the aviation industry doesn’t take a stand right now then we risk jeopardising passenger comfort into 2045 and beyond – especially if you take into account aircraft delivery timetables combined with expected years in service. Which means another generation of passengers will be consigned to seats which are based on outdated standards.”

Airbus has always maintained a standard of 18 inch (45.72cm) minimum in its long haul economy cabins.

Seat comfort top of the list

Recent research conducted into long haul economy passengers across international airports revealed that bigger airline seats and seat comfort are now the most important criteria when booking a long distance flight in economy, and more important than the schedule of the flight. Are expanding waistlines to blame?

“Our research reveals that not only does seat width have a dramatic impact on passenger comfort but also there is now a growing cohort of discerning economy passengers who are not prepared to accept long haul 17 inch crusher seats. Instead they will choose airlines that offer better seat comfort, often turning to social media or specialist websites to determine true seat value,” Keniston adds.


  • Aer Lingus (Airbus A330) 17″ (43.18cm)
  • AirAsia X (Airbus A330) 16.5″ (41.91cm)
  • AirNZ (Boeing 777) 17.1″ (43.43cm)
  • British Airways (Airbus A320) 17″ (43.18cm)
  • Cathay Pacific (Boeing 747) 17.5″ (44.45cm)
  • China Airlines (Airbus A340) 17″ (43.18cm)
  • China Southern (Boeing 777) 16.7″ – 17.2″ (42.41cm)
  • Emirates (Airbus A340) 18.5″ (46.99cm)
  • IcelandAir (Boeing 757)  19″ (48.26cm)
  • Qantas (Boeing 767) 17″ (43.18cm)
  • Qatar Airways (Boeing 777) 18.9″ (48cm)
  • Royal Brunei Airlines (Airbus A319) 17.5″ (44.45cm)
  • Singapore Airlines (Airbus A380) 19″ (48.26cm).

For more on the squishy economy class debate, you may like to read: Rage over reclining seats and armrest etiquette


2 thoughts on “Airbus calls for bigger airline seats

  1. Have to weigh into this debate. I’m five foot nothing and my better/worse half is a foot taller. That extra inch doesn’t sound like enough extra space in a seat to keep him from complaining about the discomfort of Sardine Class. I think Airbus is looking for good publicity and that’s all.


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