Squeeze play

There was certainly a lot of groaning and grumbling going on last week after Airbus unveiled new seat configurations.

Perhaps the biggest groan came with its plans for an 11-abreast A380. As you can see from the photos linked here, anyone who gets stuck with a window seat is in for a very long and uncomfortable trip with your legs crossed.

But while most people focused on the tight squeeze that would come with this seating configuration, something else got my attention.


The 11-abreast A380.

Almost every airline that operates the A380 is having trouble filling it. In fact, most A380’s are flying at well below their intended capacity. The A380 is just too big to fill and too expensive to operate.

So why would Airbus think adding even more seats to the airplane would be a good idea?

Sure, Airbus can hope to sell a few more A380s by promising lower seat mile costs with this configuration. But that only works if all the seats are filled.

Gone are the days when Airbus touted the A380 as a luxury palace in the sky where passengers could roam in spacious lounges. Desperate times— desperate measures.

Comments (14)

David Page (UK):

interesting to read about the window seat on the new seat configuration, just flew on the Dreamliner 787-9 and the window seat was horrendously uncomfortable, we had extra leg / exit seat and so stressful at meal time, no room whatsoever with the window seat.

Jason (Banff, AB):

How is the wait for the washroom any worse on an eleven abreast A380 window seat than a ten abreast B777?

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

Sorry, I think I'm a bit confused. I've read on numerous occasions that operators are typically selling A380 seats across the board at premium rates because of the demand to fly on the new aircraft. Not true? I've also read somewhere that Lufthansa is selling seats on the 747-8i at more premium rates than offered on the A380 - I understand the 747-8i features a more spacious layout than the company's 747-400.

Anyway, my confusion steams from my long memory of advertising against the dreaded middle-seat of the 747 & 777 in the 1990s. The Boeing Company is offering pretty awesome vision for what the business class of the new 777X will look like - I think a herringbone configuration according to newairplane.com.

Still neither Boeing, nor Airbus has much vision in marketing propelled at what the rear-end of the product should or could look like - where the overwhelming majority of people flying will rate & judge your airplanes.

Roger Freeman (Seattle ):


Can we assume that Airbus is paying Emirates and other A-380 operators for possible fuel burn guarantee’s and other sales guarantee’s that essentially subsidizes them to fly the plan even though they are far below expected load factors? 2. What does the used market look like for freighter conversion, I assume the aircraft airport limitation and non-standard size make it financially unfeasible for future freighter conversion? Could Airbus be working to replace A-380’s with future A-350’s to capture more market share in the twin isle market and will that have an effect on 777X?

Alfonso Plana (Bogotá, Colombia):

Travelled last week on the 747-8i on a LH flight to Beijing. Great aircraft, my favorite, but it seems to me that the next real air transport milestone should be far greater speed and not IFEs, bars and mood lighting.

Marc A (Springfield Gardens NY - Near JFK):

You couldn't say it any better. First the A380 was marketed as with 555 seats, then 525 seats. Another time Airbus states that they projected that the plane would sell at such a high rate. Selling projections not working now, so its an overestimation of sales predictions for the plane. Then now its putting 11 across to make cost per seat viable. The excuses go on and on and on.

Simply speaking it is maybe working for Emirates because they have how much (300), but how much (airlines) else. I feel that it will be a white elephant because its a gas guzzler and very expensive to operate. They cannot fill those seats unless someone decides to ditch 787 which when you fill two 9's, you will carry to the capacity of A380 and it cost far less to operate. There is lots of confusion in the camp.

Mike (Denver, Colorado):

I am a huge fan of Boeing’s wide body planes, but 10 across seating on the 777 is no different than 11 across on the Airbus. I miss the old 2x5x2 that is now 3x3x3 on the 777. The 787 is a great airplane, but 9 across seating is just plain wrong in coach. The plane feels tight and I have noticed that most flight attendants have to walk at an angle down the aisle to keep from bumping the passengers seated on the aisle seats. I'll take the 767 over the 787 any day of the week.

Denny Payne (Keller, TX USA):

Perhaps airlines wouldn't be having such desparate times if they would actually outfit planes in a way that didn't constantly generate news stories about how horrible it is to travel these days. People generally don't take kindly to being treated like cattle.

Mike Whitney (Cheshire, UK):

These "desperate times" were instigated by BOEING Randy with the 10 across option in the B777.
As a BA Gold card holder, I recoiled as I boarded one of their Gatwick "beach fleet" B777s so equipped many years ago, bound for Barbados. What a tortuous trip it turned out to be.
No matter now how an airline configures its 777s, if a schedule shows up the type, I click to the next option.
Now, this A380 "desperate" measure. You and I both know it is just an illustration, an option as to what CAN be done if a purchaser or lessor WANTS it done. We're all thinking Amedeo here aren't we. We all know Blue Riband carriers, the likes of British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, Qantas etc, ya know, those which also happen to be Boeing customers, aren't going to be stuffing 11 across seating into their A380s. The reason is very simple; compared to the B777-300ER, they already enjoy a 40% space premium per passenger based on current passenger configurations.
A carrier like, say, Emirates as an example, based on my simple computer manipulation of the cabins, could very easily increase seating capacity of its A380s already by nearly 60 seats and still maintain its space per passenger lead over its own B777-300ERs. It will never be beaten on CASM by the current generation offerings.
In summary, therefore, whilst Airbus may not be touting the A380 as the palace of the skies, Emirates certainly is and the public perception is most definitely that it is the largest, most comfortable and quietest liner in the skies....for now.
But things they're forever changing. the 777X is just round the corner and I can't wait to see what she brings and how she changes the shape of the market and of the competition.

Joe K. (S.F. CA USA ):

Everyone seems so bent out of shape with regard to seating configuation, which is decided by the airline...not the manufacturer! Just flew on United in a 777 with a 3-3-3 configuration in the very last row of the plane...it was nice!

What Randy is pointing out is that Airbus is always contradicting itself when marketing its products..."Fly the A380 for it's spacious interior. No wait, now cram as many poor souls as you can onto it!"

My review of the A380 is very harsh. It was borne out of nothing but pure vanity on the part of Airbus...a chance to say they had beaten Boeing at something.

With the exception of one airline (who accounts for 40% of all A380 sales) the projection for a double decker VLA is below what even Boeing projected!

Cristiano Arruda (Campo Grande, MS, Brazil.):

It seems it is safer and more comfortable to fly transcon on a 737 than on a 11-armrest A380. The seats and corridors became narrower than 747-8i's.

Norman Garza (Long Beach, CA):

This is one case where I have to defer to the 10 abreast 777 on the case of the 11 seat wide A380 but in any case I cannot imagine myself stuck in the middle seat for 12 hours on an 11 across A380.

I think the problem is, airlines want to get more and more bottom lined when it comes to customer service, simply sticking more and more seats on an aircraft has become a choice to make more revenue for the route and aircraft. For manufacturers it is also more easy to stick more and skinnier seats on an available airframe than stretch it which take years to do and certify at the cost of billions. Costumer satisfaction has simply gone by the wayside.

mak (rawalpindi, pakistan):

well if airbus goes through with the 3-5-3 'baiting' offers of lower cost per seat, the airlines should forsee a fall in pax numbers as eventually people are going to avoid travelling in such discomfort .......with fewer pax onboard that bait of lower cost/seat is going to climb right through the ceiling !!? it'll become an aircraft patronised only by those who have no 'shudders' travelling in 'cattle carts'.

In such a case the likes of B747-8 will be welcome any day.

Yep! B787 3-3-3 seating & B777 3-4-3 seating are also a squeeze. In any case I feel that cabins should have some rows dedicated to a 2- 3/4 -2 seating as there are pax who would like to travel as couples without a close encounter with a stranger !?

Paul Davidson (Texas, USA):

I will NEVER fly in an 11-across configuration. ENOUGH.

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