Sunday Star-Times

Airlines go to war over legroom

One airline is offering seats already reclined, but is it about passenger comfort or the bottom line?

- JANUARY 21, 2018

More than Holden versus Ford, or Marmite versus Vegemite, nothing divides us into tribes like the reclining plane seat question. Some staunchly believe the recline button is there to be used, and if we all did it (perhaps in unison: ‘‘one, two, three recline’’) there would be no issue. The other half believe it is simply a tactile decoration made by seat designers as an ornament but never to be used. Push it and expect a kneecap back massage for the duration of the flight.

British Airways has put a stake in the ground on this long-running traveller tiff, somewhat, by ripping out the recline function on aircraft flying its short-haul routes of up to four hours.

The recline redesign will instead offer economy seats already at a slight tilt that cannot be changed. The move acknowledg­es that passengers don’t want to be at right angles for their flight, but also that the traveller behind doesn’t want their meal and drink spilled all over themselves after the person in front jerks backwards.

Officially, BA told The Times: ‘‘The 35 new short-haul aircraft we are introducin­g over the next five years will have new seats set to a gentle recline to ensure everyone in the cabin enjoys a comfortabl­e journey. These changes will also allow us to offer more low fares to customers.’’

And it’s that last sentence that’s really the clue here. Although the airline was lauded for taking a stance on stopping the legroom wars, by adopting the same static seat design as budget carriers Ryanair and Easyjet, the tacit mention of fares shows what this is about: cost-cutting and cramming. Reducing the range of total space a row of seats can take up might only be dealing in centimetre­s, but across the entire plane the cumulative benefit (or damage) could mean squeezing in another row or two of seats into the economy cabins.

Some Jetstar flyers will know that this is nothing new, the Qantas-owned budget carrier removed recline from some of its Airbus A320s years ago. However, no matter where you stand on the legroom wars, this move by a so-called premium flag carrier airline to steal (yet another) trick from its budget user-pays-for-everything rivals seems like a veiled attempt to cram more of us in.

How long until other premium carriers (cough, Air New Zealand, cough), which are trying to fend off budget carriers, also ditch the recline to keep cost per passenger down? And if these low airfares are what we’re after, you might just have to wear it on the chin, or should that be knees?

Passengers don't want to be at right angles for the duration of their flight, but the traveller behind doesn't want their meal and drink spilled all over them after the person in front jerks backwards.

Email if you have a travel issue you’d like Josh Martin, a London-based travel journalist, to write about.

 ?? 123RF ?? The days of stretching out on short-haul flights may be numbered.
123RF The days of stretching out on short-haul flights may be numbered.
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