Flydubai showcases smaller economy seats, as industry seeks more space

Written by Staff Writer at CNN

The airline business class cabin of the future is poised to look very different, experts say.

During its four-day Singapore air show showcase this week, flydubai introduced its new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, which will be capable of seats of just 29 inches in economy.

This fits into the 23.8 inch seat pitch offered by many airlines today, which can also mean the difference between legroom and total banishment from a plane.

As a result, there is already a move afoot in the aviation industry to narrow the gap between two-seater economy and business class cabin layouts.

In coming years, airlines will still need room for business-class seats with longer bulkheads and long aisles, but at the very least the space for a seat pitch of 26 inches will become more common, predicts Jonathan Wober of TripAdvisor’s Travel & Lifestyle magazine.

“Clearly, we will not see the radical seating changes we’ve seen in recent years, but we will see the industry continue to move towards a more business-class-friendly concept,” he said.

According to industry experts, this is due to an emerging generation of travelers who are well-versed in the benefits of using technology on short-haul flights, and are also picky about their space.

“It’s also a generational shift, where some will have grown up in the era of a limited economy-class seat pitch, and will be selective when it comes to which airline or airline brand they choose to fly,” adds Wober.

Moderator Graham Hill talks to Brett Smith, VP and GM at Flydubai, on the new business class seats. Credit: Ryan Young

Business class space constraints

Like airlines around the world, flydubai’s new cabin configuration is aimed at offering more space and comfort in economy-class, and is in line with the changes that have already occurred at Emirates, for example.

“I don’t think there will be radical, dramatic changes in the coming years,” says Brett Smith, head of Flydubai’s Business, Economy and Flagship Services division.

While ultra-long-haul flights are likely to still face tight seat or bulkhead space constraints, he adds, the cabin design of other international long-haul airlines is likely to evolve, particularly as the market for economy-class seats moves away from the popular larger-resort seats to “ultra-light fare” products with reclining sofas, shower rooms and so on.

“With business-class products now featuring individual power outlets and loo cubby holes that are roughly the size of a human fist, airlines will have to further innovate to differentiate their business-class product offerings,” says Smith.

That said, there are no plans to introduce any premium economy products to flydubai’s fleet of Airbus A320s, for example, as in-seat entertainment and such amenities are not the “big ticket items” and pricing advantage of ultra-long-haul business class products, he says.

However, with airport security largely taken care of, operators are likely to increase their use of door-to-door services to offer customers the option of a seat upgrade as another source of revenue.

Meanwhile, Wober suggests more airlines will look to different ways of presenting their business class product to attract more premium passengers.

“Going forward, with an emphasis on networking, private suites on jets, flat-bed seats and flexible, customizable seat choices will continue to be embraced,” he says.

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