Spirit has long put 17-inch-wide seats in its A320s so it could have a spacious center aisle. Passengers and crew can squeeze by when a cart is in the aisle, and the wider aisle lets passengers board and exit faster, helping the airline shorten the time planes sit on the ground between flights.
Now, Spirit is installing Acro seats with 18-inch middle seats in each row of six seats and shrinking the open aisle space by 2 inches. The aisle is still more than 25 inches wide.
Spirit has been upping its game the past few years, improving its operation by reducing delays and cancellations. The airline has moved from near the bottom of the Middle Seat Scorecard in 2016 and 2017 to the middle of the pack last year.
Mr. Christie says Spirit took a hard look at improving its cabin and hit on the new Acro seats, which also offer some extra legroom by redesigning the tray table and introducing more curvature in the seat back. Part of the product review included exploring the idea of giving extra space to the middle seat.
Rows are still only 28 inches deep—tightest in the industry. (Most others have seat pitch of 30 or 31 inches.) And Spirit seats are “pre-reclined”—airline-speak for no recline—since they are so close to
each other. Spirit has 182 seats on its A320. JetBlue has 162 on the same aircraft, Delta has 157 and American and United both have 150.
Post-flight passenger surveys show a 40% improvement in comfort scores for the new seats compared with the old ones, Mr. Christie says. Among middle-seat passengers, there’s a 50% improvement. That makes the middle-seat score almost the same as aisle and window seats—a surprise to the airline.
“It’s an overall brand lift,” he says of the new seating.
Spirit has the wider seat on six newly delivered aircraft so far. The new seating will be on all future deliveries, and retrofit into existing planes starting later this year. By the end of 2020 it will be on more than 20 airplanes, Spirit says. As it becomes more widely available, the airline will start promoting it heavily and pricing seat assignments to reflect the added room.
There could even be a backlash from passengers in premium aisle and window seats if they feel like they are cheated out of a few precious centimeters. Space equals comfort on an airplane. For now, most of the wider middle seats steal inches from the actual aisle, not neighboring seats. But that could change if popularity grows.
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