Take offs & Land­ings

New nar­row-body air­craft de­signed for but will com­fort be com­pro­mised?

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Alex McWhirter

Oceans of Choice – New nar­row­body jets are set for trans-At­lantic ser­vice. Plus new route news

Forty-five years ago, when Pan Am’s Boe­ing 747 ap­peared on the Lon­don-NewYork route, pas­sen­gers be­lieved air travel could only get bet­ter. Back in 1970, air­lines and air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ers pro­claimed it was the era of the wide-body jet. Larger air­craft such as the 747, DC-10 and Lock­heed Tri-Star would re­place nar­row-bod­ies like the 707, DC-8 and VC-10. Pas­sen­gers tak­ing long-dis­tance flights could look for­ward to a roomier, more com­fort­able and smoother fly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

How­ever, as we have seen so many times be­fore over the last 100 years, when it comes to avi­a­tion noth­ing is set in stone. Al­though wide-body jets en­abled the air­lines to pro­vide pas­sen­gers with a su­pe­rior ex­pe­ri­ence, they were a mixed bless­ing in a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket.

In the dis­tant past, larger air­craft en­abled the air­lines to get away with of­fer­ing pas­sen­gers fewer flights. It was good news for the car­ri­ers (be­cause they could con­trol ca­pac­ity), the air­ports (be­cause they had room for ex­pan­sion) and the en­vi­ron­ment. How­ever, it wasn’t good news for pas­sen­gers. Not only was there less choice, but fewer flights also meant higher load fac­tors, which in turn pushed up prices.

That un­healthy sit­u­a­tion ex­isted for a cou­ple of decades af­ter the 747’s ar­rival be­cause reg­u­la­tions at the time re­stricted choice. But in to­day’s lib­er­al­ized and ever-more com­pet­i­tive mar­ket, pas­sen­gers de­mand a range of op­tions.

This is where the nar­row-body air­craft have come into their own. Cheaper to op­er­ate, they also have fewer seats so are eas­ier to fill. It means they are a flex­i­ble op­tion for new­comer car­ri­ers.

The 747 and its ilk reigned supreme across the At­lantic for a good num­ber of years. Un­til Con­ti­nen­tal de­cided to start serv­ing a num­ber of sec­ondary des­ti­na­tions from NewYork us­ing two-class, nar­row­bod­ied 757s – air­craft more at home on 500-mile flights within Europe than on 3,500-mile trans-At­lantic marathons.

Th­ese 757s used by Con­ti­nen­tal (now part of United) were fit­ted with ex­tra fuel tanks, al­low­ing them to fly greater dis­tances, and their smaller cab­ins made them eas­ier to fill on less busy routes to the UK, main­land Europe and Scan­di­navia. More re­cently, Amer­i­can Air­lines has em­u­lated Con­ti­nen­tal with 757 ser­vices to var­i­ous sec­ondary air­ports.

Pas­sen­gers now had a choice. If they wanted a com­fort­able wide-body ex­pe­ri­ence, then they flew from a ma­jor air­port. But if they wanted to travel from

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