What Happened To 2-5-2 Aircraft Seating Configurations?

Nowadays most passengers can expect a standard configuration on their widebody aircraft, such as 3-4-3, 2-4-2, or 3-3-3, depending on the aircraft type. However, not too long ago there was also a 2-5-2 economy configuration. Why do we not see this seating configuration anymore, and was it any good?

United-777-loss-of-separation-sydney
Some early United 777s featured a 2-5-2 economy layout. Photo: United Airlines News Hub

The logic

While 2-5-2 sounds like a surprising configuration now, there is a logic to it. The two seats on either side allow couples or those traveling together not to have to sit with a stranger. The middle row of five makes sense for families who would rather sit together than split up, as larger groups would be in a comparable 3-3-3 cabin.

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2-5-2 seating
While the five seats in the middle are great for families, it could be a nightmare for solo travelers. Photo: Shankar S. via Flickr

However, as expected, there is a significant drawback to this configuration. The person in the middle seat of the five has to cross over at least two seats of people to exit the row. While this is fine for families, it might be awkward for a solo traveler to ask half the row to move so they can exit. This is similar to window seats in a 3-3-3 configuration but without the benefit of the window.

The logic of this configuration is simple: only one passenger has to cross over two passengers to get to the aisle, unlike in a 3-3-3 configuration where two window seat passengers have to do so.

Which aircraft has this layout and why?

This seating configuration could be found on some older aircraft such as the DC-10 and Lockheed TriStar. The reason for this, according to a message board on Airliners.net, was that it was much easier to add new seats to the center rather than reposition both of the 2-2 side seats.

Several airlines also opted for this layout on their 777s. The 777 was interesting since it didn’t have enough space for the 747s standard 3-4-3 layout but had more space than the 767s 2-3-2 layout. Airlines mainly used the 2-5-2 seating on their 777-200s.

British Airways, Boeing 777-200, Retirement
Some early 777s, such as the -200, featured 2-5-2 seating in economy. Photo: British Airways

A few airlines with this configuration include United, Malaysian Airlines, Thai Airways, and American Airlines. You’re unlikely to see this layout anymore with most airlines either retiring or refurbishing their non-ER 777s.

For the empty middle seat!

Another interesting reason for this configuration is the odds of having the middle seat empty. If airlines avoided filling in the middle seat, it would take an 89% load factor to start filling these seats (not counting families).

Compared to a 3-3-3 layout where it only takes 67% of passengers to start filling the middle seats, this was a great idea. A lot of the time passengers would end up in a 2-2-2-2 configuration rather than a 2-5-2.

KLM 777 economy
Airlines have opted for a higher capacity 3-4-3 layout on their 777s instead. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

This is the reason United opted for this configuration, according to the message board, all the way until its early 777s. The airline’s frequent fliers wanted the highest chance of having an empty seat next to them in the middle, which was most likely in this layout.

This layout was phased out with the entry of the next-generation 777s, replaced by the higher capacity 3-4-3 layouts or just a standard 3-3-3. The 2-5-2 configuration was unique, with its pros and cons, and perhaps could make a comeback on a widebody someday?

What layout would do you prefer? A 2-5-2 or a 3-3-3 economy? Let us know why in the comments!

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