Width is which?

There's a misleading statement popping up lately in the media.

It's even come up in discussions with reporters here in Australia and New Zealand this week. So I think it's important to take a moment to set out some facts about the Next-Generation 737 vs. the A320.

The statement I seem to keep hearing and reading is that the A320 cabin is "7 inches wider than the 737." And that this somehow makes the Airbus product a more comfortable, more preferred airplane.

Well, okay, the A320 is about 7 inches (18 cm) wider. But the interesting thing about that assertion is that the "7 inch" difference is actually not a cabin measurement, but is measured from the exterior fuselage of the airplane.

Now, I'm not sure how many passengers choose to sit on the outside of an airplane, but I would think it's kind of breezy out there!

So let's talk about the inside, where you and I ride. Inside the cabin is what really matters, and that's where you'll realize there's little comfort difference between the Next-Generation 737s and the A320 family.

Boeing 737 - A320 comparison image

At seated eye height, the passenger cabins have a difference of less than 3 inches. That's less than a 1/2 inch difference per passenger.

When we talk about how and where seated passengers perceive cabin comfort, we've found that this occurs at your head and shoulder level - or at about 50 inches above the floor - not at the level of your knees or seat bottom.

And at head and shoulder level - or seated eye height, as it's sometimes described - there's only a 2.8 inch (7.1 cm) difference between the two airplanes.

Once you realize that, you see that this amounts to less than a half inch more space per passenger. Or about the width of a pencil!

So, which width is which? Well, think about it again. It's not the outside dimension that means anything to the passenger. As I mentioned, when I travel it's usually on the inside of the airplane.

And when talking about these two airplane families, you might also want to consider something else. For short flights, passenger survey results tell us that the major influence on whether you think you had a good flight experience is on-time performance. And the Next-Generation 737 is the industry leader in technical reliability. In comparison, the A320 series has 40% more technical delays.

Which gets us back to the comfort factor. I travel a heck of a lot. And to me, "comfort" also means knowing that I'll get where I want to go, and get there on time.