Will Airlines Ever Introduce A Cabin Below Economy?

Economy class: words that strike trepidation into the heart of many a long-haul passenger, who is not only about to embark on a physical journey but also a spiritual one, as they enter the tiny economy seats most modern airlines employ.

economy
Economy cabins like this might soon be considered luxury. Photo: Wikimedia.

However, some airlines are flirting with the idea of an even lower cabin class below economy.

What are the details?

According to God Save The Points, many airlines are considering unbundling the features that are offered in economy. After all, what seems to be working well in business class might work just as well down at the back of the plane. What sort of things they might unbundle?

  • No longer including meals
  • No longer including entertainment
  • Reducing seat pitch below 30″
  • Another seat per row
  • Not even a tray table or overhead bin space
  • They might even eliminate windows or place the area off the main deck

But with this unbundling, airlines will now be able to offer an even cheaper price point for budget-conscious passengers.

Some airlines are really starting to push how many people they can fit on the plane, with reports that French Bee will offer 10-seat across in their economy cabin onboard their A350 fleet. In an interview to RGN, the Airbus VP of Marketing, François Caudron, mentioned the creation of a new sub-economy class, saying,

“Some of them say we may want to have a cabin portion, just to have a product that allows us to compete with the long-haul, low-cost. And then I’m seeing in the mainline carriers, this is what we’re going to be seeing. The back of the cabin, or it’s a part of the economy cabin, ten-abreast, and then a nine-abreast, and then a premium economy, and then business.”

French bee A350 on ground
A French Bee taxis in Paris. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

What would this class be like?

The first major difference between this and economy is that technically you would not actually get a seat. Rather you would be seated in an ‘upright brace’ that supported you physically but would not provide any comfort. It would allow airlines to greatly reduce the seat pitch from 30 inches to 23-inches (58cm), a 25% decrease. This would increase passenger capacity onboard by 40%.


It would be for airlines that fly short-haul routes of no more than two hours… at least that’s what we hope! Additionally, passengers would have none of the perks that we normally expect with air travel, and might be asked to fly in very spartan conditions.

Who would fly it?

There are actually airlines in the world today who have tested the waters with a ‘lower class cabin’.

The first, Ryanair, will come at no surprise for long-time readers. They have already pushed for a special Boeing 737 MAX 200 aircraft, that takes a normal Boeing 737 MAX 8 and increases the seat density to 200 seats. This is accomplished by removing toilets and other extra spaces that are deemed ‘unnecessary’. Fortunately, this aircraft has been delayed by the Boeing 737 MAX groundings, but maybe it is only a matter of time until Ryanair takes the concept further and removes the seats altogether.

Ryanair 737 MAX
Ryanair will operate a dense 200 seat configuration of the 737 MAX. Photo: Ryanair

Other airlines that have expressed interest in the design is Australia’s Tiger Air and Chinese airline Spring Airlines. The saddle seat design pictured above has not yet been approved by the FAA or other regulatory authorities.

That just leaves us with the real question: which airline will implement this first?

What do you think of this new airline class? Would you fly in it for a cheaper experience? Let us know in the comments!

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Nigel

I’ve wondered for a long time now when airlines would start considering putting passengers in the space that is currently the cargo bay. Lufthansa have toilets downstairs on some A340s, the L1011 had a downstairs “lounge” option, and Qantas recently explored various sub-floor options for Project Sunrise.
The seating would probably have to be re-designed to cope with the curved walls, but it could conceivably be done. If necessary, LED screens could be used to create the illusion of windows (like the new Emirates first class center cabins).
In an A380, it would probably be quite a comfortable option.

Vince

Nigel,

Putting passengers in the space that is currently the cargo bay will likely face lengthy regulatory scrutiny and approval. The very first requirement will be the evacuation. Emergency exit doors, will have to be built into the aircraft by Boeing or Airbus to enable cargo bay seating. Seating passengers in the lower deck is a completely different thing from placing a lounge or washroom. This effectively reduces the possibility of this happening with aircraft older aircraft in the market like the A330 as extensive modification will be needed to achieve the necessary safety requirement.

Norman

What I would like to know is what governs the number of emergency exits and cabin crew. Surely it is passenger numbers on the aircraft. If so maybe the extra expense of augmenting these will put off the airlines from trying it. Anybody know what the regulations are?

Nigel

Aircraft are certified for a maximum number of passengers, depending on the number and type of exit doors present. In general, most aircraft have seat numbers that are well below this maximum number…although the new single-class 3-4-3 A350s (for LCCs) come very close.

Matt

The new larger business classes are starting to allow airlines to cheat in economy. Since the governing bodies only regulate the total number.

Gretna

Ah, the return of steerage. 1 : the act or practice of steering broadly : direction. 2 [ from its originally being located near the rudder ] : a section of inferior accommodations in a passenger ship for passengers paying the lowest fares.

Gretna

in all seriousness, you’re asking how few amenities beyond a flight between pts A and B and nodes in between will paxs forgo. For me, beyond assuring I’ll arrive at pt B safe and of sound mind, I can forgo most everything for the right price. What has interest me over the years is what paxs have willingly paid for the right to ride up front on short links. Bottom line, I’ll ride steerage to later enjoy the luxury of my choice at destination.

Paul

this really is a race to the bottom and only really works for small people. I am over 5 ft 18 so none of these “progressions” are attractive for me. I flew Ryan air once, never again. there is a price point that balances space, comfort and facilities. There are two big issues that I see all the time. I live in Abu Dhabi, why is double the cost to fly from AUH to Manchester, than it is from Manchester to AUH? its the same flight on the same plane, only point of origin is different. secondly, I see that… Read more »

Joanna Bailey

This would be my worry with unbundling fares to the nth degree. Seat prices might even appear slightly cheaper, but when you add on all the things you would normally expect to be included, you end up with a very expensive product.

Bob Plamer

It’s called “steerage” and there could be problems with all the animals in cages down there, some of whom may be emitting foul gases.

RKC

These are weak, ridiculous arguments…

1) many airlines don’t include meals (namely LCCs and European carriers)
2) some airlines already make you pay for entertainment (eg Jetstar)
3) some airlines do have less than 30” (eg Jet2, Wizz, LATAM, EasyJet…)
4) airlines already have added extra seats in each row (eg French Bee as you said, AirAsia X on their A330…)
5) Ryanair charge €10 for overhead bin space already
6) what’s the point of removing windows?? It costs airlines more to have them covered than leave them as they are…

Joanna Bailey

This is about creating a new ‘class’ of travel that’s lower than economy. Sure, some airlines already charge for all those things, but the lowest legroom is 29″ an only on a handful of carriers. A stand up seat would allow a pitch of much less, cramming more passengers into the space. Maybe they’d also restrict use of toilets / charge for toilet use, or find other ways to reduce the service available on board. Perhpas there would be even greater restrictions on the size of your ‘personal item’, meaning just a very small handbag or similar could be carried…… Read more »

Nigel

Joanna, a lot of people don’t seem to have the mental capacity to be able to distinguish between prognosis and postulation. They similarly lack an ability to distinguish between an objective and a subjective utterance. In many cases, they can’t even distinguish between a question and a statement. The Human Ape at its best/worst.