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How Many Middle Seats Is Too Many?

SmarterTravel

When considering (oxymoron alert!) coach-class comfort, the focus tends to be on legroom and seat width. Indeed, those two variables go a long way toward determining how comfortable you’ll be, especially on longer flights.

But there is a third variable to consider as well: seat position. Whether it’s an aisle, window, or middle seat plays a major role in exacerbating or alleviating the coach crunch. Both aisle and widow seats allow travelers a smidgen of extra room to expand, toward the plane’s interior wall or into the aisle. Middle-seat occupants have no such luxury.

No wonder the middle seat is universally reviled.

The seats on the B737s operated by Southwest are arranged 3×3. In every row, there are two aisle seats, two window seats, and two middle seats. So on a full plane, every passenger has a one in three chance (33 percent) of getting stuck in a middle seat.

On B747s, once the workhorses of long-haul flying, most coach cabins were configured 3x4x3. That upped the odds of getting an inside seat to 40 percent.

One of the successors to the B747 is the Airbus A380. Those planes are typically fitted with 3x4x3 coach seating on the main deck—same as the B747—and 2x4x2 seating on the upper deck. Savvy travelers know to book the upstairs seats, where there’s a higher percentage of aisle and window seats.

From Bad to Worse

At this week’s Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany, Airbus previewed a new option for airlines purchasing their A380s: 11-across seating, arranged 3x5x3. Airbus didn’t provide detailed specifications, but adding an extra seat in each row would obviously require reducing the width of every seat, which in most cases are just 17.2 inches wide in the current 3x4x3 arrangement. And that extra seat means the odds of getting an inside seat increase to 45 percent.

Airbus stressed that the new crusher configuration was just one of several available seating options, appropriate for carriers that are operating in ultra-low-fare mode. Realistically, the extra revenue potential represented by the higher-density seating will sorely tempt any airline that operates the A380.

The new layout won’t make an appearance until at least 2017. But thereafter, flyers beware.

Reader Reality Check

How much comfort are you willing to sacrifice to get a lower fare?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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