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Airbus calls on aviation industry to set a new standard for long haul comfort

Airbus proposes 18 inch (45.72cm) seat width as the standard for future long haul economy air travel.

LONDON – Airbus reveals new research into the impact seat width makes to levels of passenger comfort on board long haul economy flights; calling on the aviation industry to set a minimum standard of 18 inches (45.72cm) in order to improve the future comfort of long haul air travel.

The groundbreaking research conducted by Harley Street medical practice The London Sleep Centre, using polysomnography to record every standard physiological sleep measurement – including monitoring brainwaves, eye, abdominal, chest and hip leg movement – on a selection of passengers, revealed that a minimum seat width of 18 inches improved passenger sleep quality by 53% when compared to the 1950s 17 inch standard.

Dr Irshaad Ebrahim MBChB MRCPsych of The London Sleep Centre commented: “The difference was significant. All passengers experienced a deeper, less disturbed and longer night’s sleep in the 18 inch seat. They went from one sleep stage to the next as you would expect them to do under normal circumstances. Whilst in the narrower 17 inch seat the passengers were affected by numerous disturbances during sleep – which meant they rarely experienced deep restorative sleep. When it comes to flying long haul in economy, an inch makes a huge difference on passenger comfort.”

Air transport has changed significantly over the last 50 years. There are more passengers, flying further for longer distances. In the last five years alone the number of flights over 6,000 nautical miles (13+ hours flight time) has increased by 70% from 24 to 41 daily flights. In 1998 no flight over 7,000 nautical miles had ever taken place. In the next 15 years passenger traffic will double and by 2032, the world’s airlines will take delivery of more than 29,220 new passenger and freighter aircraft.

Kevin Keniston, Airbus’ Head of Passenger Comfort, comments: “If the aviation industry doesn’t take a stand right now then we risk jeopardising passenger comfort into 2045 and beyond – especially if you take into account aircraft delivery timetables combined with expected years in service. Which means another generation of passengers will be consigned to seats which are based on outdated standards.”

Airbus has always maintained a standard of 18 inch (45.72cm) minimum in its long haul economy cabins. However, other manufacturers are eroding passenger comfort standards by going back to narrower seat widths from the 1950s in order to remain competitive. Changing Body Mass Index (BMI) and perspectives on personal space have encouraged other industries, such as leisure and automotive, to re-think seat width. And recent research conducted into long haul economy passengers across international airports revealed that seat comfort is now the most important criteria when booking a long distance flight in economy, even over the schedule of the flight.

Kevin Keniston adds: “Our research reveals that not only does seat width make a dramatic impact on passenger comfort but there is now a growing cohort of discerning economy passengers who are not prepared to accept long haul 17 inch crusher seats and instead will choose airlines that offer better seat comfort, often turning to social media or specialist websites to determine true seat value. Thankfully passengers these days have a choice and they are choosing to put comfort first. We are encouraging them to be aware of the difference an inch makes in long haul economy.”

The full polysomnography recorded every standard physiological sleep measurement on a selection of passengers, including brainwaves, eye, abdominal, chest and hip leg movement. The study design followed established principles of clinical study – this was a cross-over study to assess the impact on sleep variables by two different seat sizes – 17 and 18 inches in a small sample of six healthy adults who had been previously screened for the presence of medical and sleep disorders. The cabin environment was structured to simulate as close as possible the true flight environment from the start including lighting to replicate sunset and sunrise, aircraft take-off and background sounds, in-flight entertainment and catering. (October 2013)

All participants in the study were of average BMI with no record of health or sleep issues and were kept blind to the purpose of the study. Each completed a series of nights sleep in flight simulations re-creating long haul economy passenger experience, all variables were kept constant apart from the width of the seat which changed between 17 and 18 inches.

Objective (Scientific Data) – Improvement in Sleep Quality variables by up to 53%

– The time it took to fall asleep (also called Sleep Onset Latency) showed an improvement of 14.7% (6 minutes) on the 18 inch seat;
– The number of awakenings after falling asleep (Wake After Sleep Onset – WASO) showed an average reduction of 28 minutes on the 18 inch seat;
– Arousal Index – the most sensitive measure of SQ – measures number and frequency of disturbances to the brain waves during the course of the night – showed an average 53% improvement on the 18″ seat;
– Limb Twitches were reduced by 11% on the 18″ seat
– 67% of study participants reported better Sleep Quality and 86% of participants reported improved Sleep Quantity on the 18 inch seat.

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