Why airlines pinch more than an inch of leg room

The UK's first no-frills long-haul service is not the meanest in terms of space, says Mark Rowe

When AirAsia X launched its "no-frills" service between Kuala Lumpur and London Stansted earlier this month, one of the points raised was that the vast majority of seats on its two A340-300 aircraft would be economy, and that the seat pitch would be just 32in.

Yet a glance at the seat pitches of major airlines suggests that AirAsia X is doing little out of the ordinary. In fact, it is marginally more generous than some of the flagship carriers, such as British Airways.

The good news for passengers is that seat pitch has already been squeezed as far as airlines feel they can get away with. The bad news is that the credit crisis has ensured that few airlines will feel able to increase leg space. "Seat pitch equals revenue, and that equals how much the airlines will lose or, if they're lucky, make this year," said Peter Miller, marketing director of Skytrax, adviser on quality to airlines and airports. "If you have a seat pitch of 31in rather than 34in, then you carry an extra 25 to 30 passengers. All the major airlines will get away with as little as they can."

Instead, some airlines are looking to increase capacity by installing more seats along rows. Emirates has introduced 10 seats across the aisles of its 777s, while Air France also recently installed 10-seat rows on some aircraft – equating to an extra 35 passengers or so per flight.

The seat pitch is the distance between the rows of seats and is measured from the back of one seat to the back of the seat behind. UK regulations set by the Civil Aviation Authority say that, in practice, the minimum seat pitch must be 28in. The UK is thought to be the only country with a minimum seat pitch. Yet seat pitch per se does not reflect the amount of legroom available, as this also depends on the size and thickness of seat.

"Seat pitch is an element in airline costings, but it isn't fundamental," said Neal Weston of the British Air Transport Association. "There are other issues, such as ancillary charges, luggage, and how web-based customers are."

A spokeswoman for BA echoed this view. "We select our seat pitch based on a number of factors," she said. "We need to ensure the seats are comfortable for customers, and make the most use of the cabin floor space we have."

Generally, apart from securing an emergency row seat, bulkhead seat or just an aisle seat, there appears little that passengers can do to ease cramped conditions. Even the A380 offers a seat pitch of 32in. The effect on such a wide-bodied aircraft is to create space for 399 economy passengers, but the result is what some people have described as a claustrophobic feeling on the lower deck, which has three long segments, each curtained off, of economy seats in 3-4-3 format.

Possible solutions include staggering seats to free up arm and shoulder space; and overlapping arm rests to increase seat width. Cathay Pacific brought in a fixed-back seat that can recline without impinging on the space behind or in front of you. Singapore Airlines offers a 32in pitch, but has also designed an economy seat that creates more room.

If you are lucky, one of the few airlines with a good-sized seat pitch will be flying to your destination, and Skytrax pin points Asiana Airlines as having the amplest, at 34in. "Such airlines know they could squeeze more people on but they use this as a key selling point," said Mr Miller. Similarly Thai Airways and Malaysia Airlines, which generally fly older aircraft, offer more generous seat pitch.

Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
Life and Style
The reindeer pen at the attraction
lifeLaurence Llewelyn-Bowen's 'Magical Journey' and other winter blunderlands
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Tana Ramsay gave evidence in a legal action in which her husband, Gordon, is accusing her father, Christopher Hutcheson, of using a ghost writer machine to “forge” his signature
peopleTana Ramsay said alleged discovery was 'extremely distressing'
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Windsor and Aljaz Skorjanec rehearse their same-sex dance together on Strictly Come Dancing
TV
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Group Financial Controller

    £50000 - £55000 per annum: Investigo: A growing group of top end restaurants l...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Day In a Page

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'