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Airlines ponder how to pack 'em in
Standing-room 'seats,' slimmer backs are options

New York Times

The airlines have come up with a new answer to an old question: How many passengers can be squeezed into economy class?

A lot more, it turns out, especially if an idea still in the early stage should catch on: standing-room-only "seats."

Airbus has been quietly pitching the standing-room-only option to Asian carriers, though none has agreed to it yet. Passengers in the standing section would be propped against a padded backboard, held in place with a harness, according to experts who have seen a proposal.

But even short of that option, carriers have been slipping another row or two of seats into coach by exploiting stronger, lighter materials developed by seat manufacturers that allow for slimmer seatbacks. The thinner seats theoretically could be used to give passengers more legroom but, in practice, the airlines have been keeping the amount of space between rows the same to accommodate additional rows.

The result is an additional six seats on a typical Boeing 737 for a total of 156, and as many as 12 new seats on a Boeing 757 for a total of 200.

That such things are even being considered is a result of several factors. High fuel costs, for example, are making it difficult for carriers to turn profits. The new seat technology alone can add millions in additional annual revenue.

Even as the airlines are trimming the size of the seatbacks in coach, they are installing seats as thick and heavy as ever in first and business class — and going to great lengths to promote them. That is because each passenger in such a seat can generate several times the revenue of a coach traveler.

At the front of the cabin, the emphasis is on comfort and amenities like sophisticated entertainment systems. And, of course, the airlines have installed lie-flat seats for their premium passengers on international routes.
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