|by Jason Steele|
Some people prefer the aisle so they can get up without disturbing others. I prefer the window so that nobody disturbs me while I look outside. Nobody prefers the middle seat.
Boeing May End Middle Seats On Shorter Flights
Since the dawn of the jet age, Boeing has used the same 3-3 seating on its 707, 727, 737, and 757 jets. Today, only the 737 remains in production. After over 40 years and two major redesigns, Boeing has decided to design it’s replacement from scratch. The move comes even as rival Airbus recently announced it will only be adding new engines to its 318-319-320-321 series aircraft. Right now, the word in the industry is that Boeing is seriously considering a twin aisle design for it’s relatively short range aircraft replacement. Such a design would either be configured 2-2-2 or 2-3-2. Aviation geeks know that the 767 is configured 2-3-2 for most airlines. If Boeing was to narrow the fuselage much beyond the 767, that would force airlines to configure their aircraft 2-2-2.
This seating arrangement would have many advantages. First, it would be the most passenger friendly aircraft flying, as no one would ever have a middle seat. Yet we are kidding ourselves if we were to imagine that Boeing’s customers, the airlines, give a split second of thought to passenger comfort. The airlines only care about making money by stuffing as many passengers in the plane as possible. Fortunately for us passengers, it actually takes a long time to stuff a couple hundred people and their luggage down a single aisle. With twice the number of aisles and overhead luggage compartments per person, a 2-2-2 design would be much faster to board and disembark than the 3-3 design. Such an airline might be slightly larger than the current, 3-3 design, but the theory is that the airlines would have faster turn around times and more flights per day. Currently, it can take nearly an hour to get 200 people off of a 757, do a quick clean up, and reboard. If that time could be cut by 40-50%, it is easy to imagine an airline getting an additional revenue flight per day our of it’s aircraft and another flight or two from it’s precious gate. From the perspective of the airline, the time the passenger saves getting off the plane and the increased comfort onboard are merely unintended consequences of the more efficient design. If an airline is smart enough to gain a huge order ahead of it’s competitors, perhaps marketing might be able to make some hay from the new aircraft, but that’s peanuts compared to the operating efficiencies. Another plus would be a first class section with a 1-2-1 configuration, giving each passenger unimpeded access to the aisle.
Could This Be A Repeat Of The 787?
Nearly a decade ago, Boeing launched what would become the 787. At first, they specified 8 across seating in a 2-4-2 configuration, much like the Airbus A330 and A340. Later, they widened the fuselage slightly, with the though that some airlines might go to 9 across. Wouldn’t you know it that virtually all airlines will be outfitting their 787s 9 across, just like the existing 777. Boeing could either keep the fuselage narrow enough so that airlines can only do 2-2-2, or they could widen it slightly to permit 2-3-2. If 2-3-2 is an option, I have no doubt that like the 787, all of its airline customers will cram in the 2-3-2 option. The end result will be a higher capacity aircraft than is necessary to replace the 737, leaving that market to the Airbus product as well as Boeing’s newer competitors like Bombardier, Embraer, and others.
When Will We Know?
Boeing is expected to announce the new aircraft, likely named the 797, later this year at the Paris air show. Such an aircraft will enter service later this decade, if all goes well. Based on their experience with the 787, that is a big if. For the sake of Boeing and the billions of passengers who will fly this plane, I sincerely hope they try the 2-2-2 configuration, bringing and end to the middle seat.