Airline seats may be getting tighter, but by 2020, passengers on some Airbus planes might be a little more comfortable. Or at least they may enjoy their surroundings more.
The manufacturer on Monday unveiled a new passenger cabin for its Airbus A319, A320, and A321 jets, flown on short-and medium-length routes by many of the world’s largest airlines. With the refreshed cabin, Airbus essentially will match what it offers on its A350, a long-haul aircraft, with one major exception — the A320’s interior humidity will not change. The A350 is designed for much longer routes, and because Airbus engineered its cabins to have more humidity than most jets, A350 passengers generally arrive feeling fresher and less jet-lagged than usual.
Perhaps most important to passengers for the A320 family, Airbus will add new sidewall panels that will increase cabin width, giving travelers slightly more shoulder space. Other improvements include large overhead bins capable of handling eight bags, rather than five in older models, new LED lighting, and “iconic” ceiling lighting. Airbus is also redesigning the ring around the aircraft’s windows, promising passengers will have better views.
The A320 family is Airbus’ best-selling aircraft, with the company delivering more than 7,000 since 1988. With a few big exceptions — Southwest Airlines, Copa Airlines and Ryanair among them — most big airlines rely on the A319, A320, and A321 for at least some flights that last between one and seven hours.
Like Boeing, Airbus wants to deliver more customer-friendly aircraft, but it has little say in what’s likely the most important feature for travelers — legroom. Airlines decide how many seats to install, and in recent years, they’ve been tightening space between rows. Most airlines say that’s the only way they can deliver low fares passengers want.
The good news is that Airbus’ tweaks should not, on their own, allow airlines to cram more seats in the A320 family. On widebody aircraft, after a manufacturer makes slight cabin changes, airlines can sometimes can add an extra seat per row. Indeed, as part of recent changes to the double-decker Airbus A380, airlines now can install 11 seats per row, one more than before. But the A320 remains too tight for more than six seats across.
Because Airbus has little sway in seating, its innovation usually comes elsewhere, often by making the cabin appear inviting. In this case, Airbus is also making changes to the restroom, promising anti-bacterial coatings and an automatic “aroma dispenser.” Still, at least on cost-focused airlines, bathrooms could be tight, as many will install what Airbus calls the “Space-Flex” lavatory. It’s a relatively new innovation that allows airlines to put restrooms in the rear of the aircraft, near the tail, in what previously was underused space.
If they want, airlines will be able to retrofit current A319s, A320s, and A321s to match what’s coming in 2020, but generally few carriers want to spend the time or money to refresh an already adequate aircraft. Often, airlines will fly a jet for 25 to 30 years, and while they may replace seats and entertainment systems, they don’t often make many other major changes.