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Flyers Give Thumbs Down to New Slimline Seats

Flyers Give Thumbs Down to New Slimline Seats

It has always been a central premise of airline economics: the more passengers you can pack onto a plane, the more revenue you can generate from every flight.

So even as the airlines have rushed to one-up each other with the most spacious seats (and suites) in their business- and first-class cabins, they’ve taken the opposite tack in coach, squeezing ever-more seats into the same space, never mind flyers’ whimpers of claustrophobia and discomfort.

Over the past 20 years, coach legroom has decreased from an average of 34 inches to between 30 and 32 inches. That’s in spite of the fact that travelers are taller, wider, and heavier.

The latest implement in the airlines’ revenue optimization toolkit is the slimline seat. These are coach seats with less padding in the backrest and redesigned tray tables and magazine storage areas. Because they occupy less horizontal floor space than traditional seats, they allow the airlines to add an extra row of seats on some aircraft. And they weigh less, which reduces the airlines’ fuel costs.

In a game of inches and pennies, the economic advantages of the slimline seats add up.

The airlines have been crowing about the new seats, as though they were not only good for the airlines’ bottom lines but also a positive step for passenger comfort.

A survey conducted this month by TripAdvisor aimed to reality-check that claim, posing the following question: Do you think the new slimline seats some airlines are using in their planes are comfortable?

The results of the poll:

  • 4% – Yes, more comfortable than traditional airline seats
  • 5% – I can’t tell the difference
  • 43% – No, less comfortable than traditional airline seats
  • 48% – I don’t think I have experienced new slimline seats

These results have to be taken in context. The sample size was small (1,392 respondents). And slimline seats haven’t yet become ubiquitous among U.S. airlines.

But the overwhelming consensus should give the airlines pause: Of those who had experienced the slimline seats, 83 percent found them to be less comfortable than traditional coach seats.

Reader Reality Check

Have you tried the new slimline seats?

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  • Deon Charles

    I’ve tried these new seats on Southwest. I find them less comfortable (since apparently you’re seated closer to the floor, a function of the seat), and I’ve definitely noticed less room for my knees (a function of the reduced spacing between seats).

  • Deon Charles

    Once again, it’s clear that Southwest targets the personal traveler and not the business traveler.

  • MadLibertarian

    I guess you can count the new Southwest seats as slimline. Honestly, I am a small guy but I found the seats to be just as comfortable as the older airlines if not a little more comfortable.

  • Eric Hochstein

    Just returned from a trip to Caribbean on American. Flew from ANU to MIA on AA today on a 2-week old Next Gen 737. I found the coach seat hard and somewhat uncomfortable, but I liked the entertainment system in the seat back with a monitor, USB plug, AC plug, headphone jack, etc. Tray table was ergonomically good, a good amount of magazine storage, etc.

    But my complaint is with the large power boxes at the foot of EVERY seat on the plan which reduced the amount of space under the seat for “smaller personal carryon items” and feet. I think the boxes took out about 1/4, or maybe even 1/3 of the space under each seat.

    I was in the main cabin “extra” area (premium economy) with a little extra room between rows, but the underseat space was an issue.

    I believe that the storage above the seats was much more spacious than on earlier 737’s and this may counteract the loss of floor space, but for someone with larger feet, it is almost difficult to fit feet side by side below the seat in front of you. I am certain that many bag, backpacks, and briefcases that used to fit below the seat will not make it under the new seats.

    This appears to be a “hidden cost” of added electronics in coach. But I think as people find that underseat storage has shrunk, there will be complaints, while at the same time the ease and convenience of having a regular AC plug to keep the computer, smartphone, and/or computers charged will be lauded, as will the ability to have a personal screen with good entertainment choices.

  • Callum Green

    Seems a bit of a loaded question to me. Show identical seats to a bunch of people but tell them the second was a “slimline” seat there to save the airline money and I’d wager a large proportion of them would claim it’s less comfortable.

    Not that it really matters either way. Economy is so popular because it’s cheap – while people will always moan about how uncomfortable it is, is that going to stop them using it? That’s all the airlines actually care about.

  • TomF

    What do you have to say about “business airine” United, which is installing these same slimline seats across its A320 fleet?

  • chrisdenver

    I really like the seats and it makes the plane seem more open and cleaner and modern. Very smart design placing the magazines behind the headrest area, and the tray tables seem larger and have more back-and-forth range. Seats are comfortable for a 2-3 hours flight.
    What I HATE is that some airlines (specifically United) moved the rows closer together. I’ve been on several mainline UA flights where the seat in front of me was firmly at my shins. There’s no way I could contort to stretch my legs under the seat in front of me.
    Yesterday, I flew on a UA Express flight (Sky West) with the same seats. I’m not sure if they added extra rows because of the slim seats, but there was definitely more room than on normal express flights…and tons more than a mainline UA flight with these seats.

  • CK

    The cliff notes first: I’ve flown on American’s brand new A319s several times, and after a few experiences, I now avoid flying routes with A319s as much as possible. I routinely choose to fly on MD80s and ERJs with old worn down seats (or even other airlines) before the new uncomfortable slim line ones.

    Now, further details:
    I’ve flown on American’s new A319s (which have slimline seats) a handful of times in both standard economy and Main Cabin Extra, and I have had a bad experience every time. I was excited to fly on the new plane, and went in with an open mind, wanting to like it, but fount it very uncomfortable. I am 6’2″, so I probably have longer than average legs, but I am not outlandishly tall by any means.

    As noted below, the electrical box at your feet on American’s A319 takes up so much space you have room for your feet and nothing else. My standard size backpack (admittedly, it was full) did not fit under my seat. Additionally, the power outlet is poorly placed; it juts out directly into my knee quite uncomfortably.

    My biggest complaint, however, is that the thin seat back is manifested as a recess in the seat in front of you, but the head rest/LCD screen jut back out towards you, so there is less room at eye level than there is at knee level. The seat back/tv screen right in your face (especially when the person in front reclines), makes it seem even tighter than it actually is, adds an element of claustrophobia, and, practically, makes it nearly impossible to work on a laptop, etc.

    Not only that, but it is actually uncomfortable on my butt. My usual A319 flight is only about an hour, and my butt hurts. I would never fly on an A319 on any haul longer than the ICT-DFW route I usually take.

  • John Iii

    This is pretty simple. If the airline could show you’d pay more for a better economy seat for a premium, they would give it to you. Turns out if you’re not willing to upgrade to better seat for more money, no folks will not pay more an extra inch or two of room. Folks price shop not that an airline has a better economy seat. So fine want that low fare you pay in more crammed in. It’s the trade off made

  • John Iii

    Ask them to compare and THEN ask would you pay 30 bucks more. Airlines have tried this and not enough said yes

  • Airwaysfoodie

    They’re quite common already in Europe. They are indeed less comfy than the “old” seats. Though they do offer advantages, and for now give you more legroom, I would say they’re ok for a short hop, but I wouldn’t recommend a transcon flight in them.

  • disqus_hWfJpCnFvX

    Yup – have flown these seats several times on an RJ on United and I’m not a big guy (5’9″ 160lbs) and I find these seats to be absolutely the worst. I think id rather sit on a bleacher seat for 3 hours than sit in these things

  • Marcie

    The United States Airlines,
    reality check..
    They took away free baggage, they took away blanket and pillows, they took away food. Then they reduced flights and raised prices, sometimes giving no choices, but to travel with stopovers, causing a 3 hour flight to sometimes take up to 8 hours.
    All US airlines have become monopoly.
    Europe and European airlines have become much more appealing

  • malbarda

    We can “discuss” and “dislike” all we want, but the seats are there and have a multiple year life expectancy so it is a redundant discussion. Airlines measure through what you do with your wallet and since we pay for what the airlines can get away with, the slimlines are here to stay (and expect them everywhere they are not today).

  • DeWhit

    The airlines could avoid any discussion about the seats by simply not saying anything about the seats. frequent flyers will notice and the rest will just pile on and endure the seat for the flight and gripe. nothing new. Next will be a charge for the super duper extra 2″ thick seat in two or three rows. Armrests for a small nominal fee too.