Airline plans new squeeze on leg room with record number of seats

Cebu Air Inc uses the A330neo, which is capable of covering as much as 13,334 kilometres. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

MANILA (BLOOMBERG) - A Philippine airline that holds the record for cramming the most seats into a plane is set to do it again with a new Airbus jet.

Cebu Air, the biggest carrier in the South-east Asian nation, plans to configure its newest and upcoming A321 XLR aircraft with the highest seat-density possible, doubling down on a strategy it deployed on wide-body jets used on short-haul routes.

"We always look to optimise the floor space that we have in combination with the number of lavatories, galleys, et cetera," Mr Michael Szucs, chief executive adviser of Cebu Pacific, said in an interview on the sidelines of the Singapore Airshow, which began on Tuesday (Feb 15).

"It will be another high-density configuration on the A321 XLR, but it's still a very comfortable one."

Cebu in 2019 decided to move kitchens and bathrooms on some of its new Airbus A330neos to cram in a record 460 seats, 20 more than the plane's recommended maximum.

The A321 XLR, expected to enter service from 2023, can accommodate as many as 244 seats in a higher-density configuration.

The airline uses the A330neo, which is capable of covering as much as 13,334km, mostly on short-haul routes, flying to places like Hong Kong and Singapore.

While the plane also flies to Dubai and Australia to cater to Filipinos working overseas and backpackers, "it's a short-haul big bus", Mr Szucs said.

Filling an aircraft to capacity with basic seats allows airlines to bring down fares by flying more people for the same expense, even at the cost of passenger comfort.

They compensate for that by offering an on-time and efficient flying experience.

It also helps carriers navigate through scant parking and landing slots at airports.

European low-cost carrier Ryanair Holdings led the charge in 2014 when it ordered high-density jets from Boeing with eight more seats than normal, while Cathay Pacific Airways in 2017 started cramming an extra seat into each economy row on its Boeing 777-300s, at the cost of about an inch of personal space for each passenger.

"Airbus is very confident about not only the A330neo, but also about the configuration we got it in. We were the ones that innovated, along with Airbus, to get this number of seats on there," Mr Szucs said.

"They think there will be other buyers as well."

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