Towards the end of the single economic class

For a long time, aircraft cabins have been relatively standardized products. A first, a business, an eco. Then there was a double movement: the elimination of the first on the lines where it was not profitable and the advent of the “premium eco” which is not yet a class in its own right technically speaking (it appears as eco in the reservation systems) but is as a product from a marketing point of view.

While the “front class” are increasingly devouring space with 1-2-1 configurations and “full flat” sleeper seats, space must be regained elsewhere in the cabin. And you can imagine that it will be in economy class.

But densifying the economy is not as simple as it seems. Of course, we can add more seats for the benefit of the revenue but at the expense of the experience. However, the eco customer segment is not homogeneous. Between the one who travels on a “budget” and is satisfied with little as long as we get him to his destination and the one who could “almost” fly business, we find a large number of different profiles, needs and requests for experience.

In this sense, the latest Airbus announcements show what could be the future of the economy class.

11 seats in a row in an Airbus A380.

Let’s start with the worst. While many find 10 abreast cabin configurations on a wide-body aircraft outrageous and believe that an acceptable passenger experience requires rows of 9, Airbus has introduced an A380 cabin with 11 row seats. I let you enjoy and imagine spending 12 hours in there.


Let’s have an emotional thought for the tenant of the famous “middle seat” who will now have to get two people up to stretch his legs and should avoid being claustrophobic.

The gain is not at the expense of the width of the seat, which remains unchanged, but of the armrest. Less pain but it will not be necessary to have the arms too wide.

I’m still curious about the impact this will have on the load in the hold and, even more so, on the use of the luggage compartments in which it is already very difficult to find the smallest available cubic centimetre on a long-haul economy flight.

3 different economic classes in one aircraft

This configuration is shown as a preview on an A380 but it seems that Airbus intends to propose it in the future on other aircraft and given the width of the fuselage there is no doubt that there, the seat may decrease in width.

But this is only the most visible face of a more profound redesign of the offer.

Airbus will now segment the economy cabins into 3 offers: premium, comfort and budget. The premium retaining wider seats, the comfort remaining similar to the current economy and the budget thus accommodating seats with narrow armrests and rows of 11.

We can see the possibilities that this offers in terms of cabin design…and pricing. Specialists will have a field day modulating options and pricing offers.

The “eco” customers are diverse, there must be offers for everyone

So of course we can complain about the “cattle” side and the result of the fare creativity to be expected and be nostalgic of a long time ago when when we paid for an eco seat we could access all the eco seats in the cabin. From now on, depending on the width of the seat, the position of the seat, the part of the cabin, there will be options for everything!

But we have to be pragmatic: there is the standard seat and any improvement in comfort and experience has a price. It works in all other sectors and there is no reason why airlines should be left behind.

The eco clientele is, as I said, very varied, and the role of the manufacturers is to enable the airlines to offer products that meet the expectations of each segment. In a way, one could almost praise this concern for individualization of the product, which allows everyone to find the level of comfort they desire… as long as they are willing to pay for it.

No need to blame the airlines: some customers want comfort, others want cheap fares. There must be offers for everyone and everyone will get what they pay for.

It remains to be seen how far some airlines will be willing to push the limits. And for that, no need to wait for the new Airbus cabin: Emirates did not wait to offer a 615-seat version of the 380,whereas until now it operated this aircraft in a 517-seat version (516 at Air France, 526 at Lufthansa, 517 at Qatar, 469 at British Airways, or 407 at Korean Air). The Gulf does not always lead the way in terms of passenger experience.



Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrin
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.

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