|by Jason Steele|
I have not been much of a fan of where airline comfort has been going. There have been several major trends in airline seating over the last 20 years, and almost none of them have been good for the typical traveler who sits in coach. Airlines introduced slimline seats, which really just allowed them to pack more people into the plane. They also vastly upgraded their first and business class sections, which didn’t do anything for coach travelers. Finally, they added seatback entertainment systems. While some may enjoy those, I generally prefer a good book to hours of mind numbing television and low definition movies. Worse, they have been placing large electronic boxes underneath the seats, further restricting legroom. The first time I encountered one of these boxes I was fuming. It was as if the airline decided to stow their luggage where my feet should go.
Finally, Some Good News
Over at the industry publication Aviation Week and Space Technology, there is a great article about Boeing’s new “Sky Interior”. While it was to have been rolled out on new 787 model, its numerous delays meant that it is first being seen on Boeing’s oldest and most popular design in production, the 737. What that means is that over the next decade or two, airlines will be replacing their 737s with versions that come standard with this new interior.
Why Sky Is Awesome
First, they moved the seat back pocket up above the tray table, giving passengers another 2 inches of legroom. 2 inches doesn’t sound like a lot, but that could be a 20% increase on some airlines. Next, they moved the entertainment electronics box out from under the seat where it never should have been in the first place. Furthermore, they also moved the inflatable life jackets to an overhead compartment, giving passengers unprecedented space. Finally, they raised the height of the overhead bins so that people don’t have to crouch as much to access the window seat. This is part of a general re-modeling of the interior that included LED lighting.
Who Has Sky?
Right now there are several discount carriers in Europe and the Middle East that are taking delivery of new 737s with the Sky Interior package. These include FlyDubai, Norwegian Air Shuttle, TUIfly, JetAirFly. China Eastern is also slated to receive aircraft with the new interior. While there are no US based airlines that have announced deliveries with the new interior, don’t be concerned. It is only a matter of time until airlines have to order new aircraft, and I am sure one of them will want bragging rights on being the first American carrier with this enhancement. Update: It appear that Southwest airlines will have the new Sky Interior on it’s larger Boeing 737-800s that it just announced orders for.
What Is The Downside?
Every time a larger aircraft is introduced, or a more narrow seat, airlines initially offer more comfort. For example, Boeing famously offered a piano bar in the original 747. That didn’t last long. Inevitably, airlines just cram more seats into their aircraft to maximize revenue. While it is possible that the relocation of the seat back pocket might encourage some airlines to add another row or two of seats, the rest of the upgrades will not be conducive to increasing seat counts. Simply put, they have no choice but to enhance passenger comfort if they go with this new interior.
The biggest downside will be timing. Airlines typically operate aircraft for about 15-20 years before replacing them, although some airlines will run their aircraft up to thirty years or more. The new interior will be a feature on the 737, and will be standard on the new next generation 747 and 787 models. It is even possible that some airlines will refurbish existing aircraft, retrofitting key features of the new design. Sadly, I think it will be several years before Americans will have the opportunity to enjoy this new configuration.
After decades of passenger squeezing, revenue enhancing changes, at least we are finally moving in the right direction.