Fly tight: British Airways to add 52 more seats in economy class on Boeing 777

© Heinz-Peter Bader
Flying economy on British Airways may soon become an endurance test, as the airline plans to add an extra 52 seats to its Boeing 777s by shrinking elbow space. The move is being marketed as necessary to catch up with other competitors and save costs.

Offering decent legroom and elbow space has become a top priority for carriers flying long-haul destinations, but efforts to lower the average cost per seat is literally putting a squeeze on economy class passengers. 

British Airways will add 52 extra seats to its Boeing 777s starting from 2018, meaning each row will have ten seats instead of nine like BA’s current economy class seating layout, according to the Independent

At present, all Boeing 777s operated by the UK’s flag carrier have nine economy seats abreast, carrying up to 299 passengers in all class configurations.

“We are updating our 777 cabins to bring us into line with many of our competitors,” said a British Airways spokesperson, as cited by the Independent.

According to the Airline Reporter, other major carriers using a 10-abreast setup on Boeing 777s include Emirates, Air France, American Airlines, Japan’s ANA, and Korean Air. Even Singapore Airlines, ranked third in the prestigious 2016 World’s Top 100 Airlines list, has ten seats in each row. 

Willie Walsh, the CEO of BA’s parent company International Airline Group (IAG), said: “We’re responding to a market opportunity,” adding that the move will allow the British flag carrier to “lower the average cost per seat, charge a lower price and stimulate demand.” 

British Airways is also planning to add 12 extra seats on its short-haul Airbus A320 aircraft flying from Heathrow, making the planes almost as densely packed as those operated by Britain’s low-cost airline EasyJet.

However, BA said the new seats on ‘Triple Sevens’ would be fitted with bigger screens and upgraded in-flight entertainment systems.
Airlines across the world are competing for passenger traffic on short and long-haul routes by trying to reduce operational costs, sometimes at the expense of customer-friendly options.

Earlier in April, American Airlines, United, and Delta announced that they would apply tiered pricing to all economy seats, meaning that passengers may be charged extra for choosing window or aisle seats.

Some carriers, like Uzbekistan Airways, even considered weighing passengers and their hand luggage before boarding, citing “in-flight safety requirements” introduced by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), but the organization said it has no such regulations.