In the past month or two, Cathay Pacific and British Airways both announced plans to shift from a 9-abreast to a 10-abreast Economy class seating layout on their Boeing 777 fleet. Essentially this means that there will now be 10 seats per row in Economy class and opposed to 9, which allows the airline to cram more passengers into the same aircraft than before. Cathay Pacific and British Airways will be joining Emirates, China Airlines, Air France, American Airlines, and Air Canada among others, all of which operate 10-abreast seating configurations on the 777. This leaves competitor Singapore Airlines as one of the last airlines operating a 9-abreast configuration.
Now it may not be surprising that airlines would want to pull a move like this, but the airline industry hasn’t always been this way. In recent years, there has been a shift in the airline industry due to the rise of low cost carriers (LCC’s) like Ryanair, JetBlue, Easyjet, AirAsia, and Jetstar to name a few. LCC’s are unique because unlike traditional airlines, they will do whatever possible to lower fares for travellers. That includes charging for meals, charging for baggage, cramming seats, using jetstairs instead of gates, deliberately choosing later (and cheaper) departure times, and flying to smaller airports (think London Stansted versus Heathrow). Though they are very lacking in services, LCC’s are very popular due to their low fares. For example, a round-trip flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo Narita would cost around 250USD on an LCC and around 500USD on a standard airline. The price competitiveness of LCC’s puts a lot of pressure on standard airlines, as many passengers wouldn’t pay double the price just to experience the comforts of flying with a standard airline. Thus, most airlines are now shifting towards the LCC strategy by decreasing comfort in exchange for lower prices. While future passengers flying on Cathay Pacific and British Airways 777’s may feel a tighter squeeze, they will be able to enjoy the perks of lower airfares.