“These innovative enhancements allow for a wider range of healthy postures and movements, offering an additional two inches of usable legroom compared to industry-standard flatback seats with the same pitch. The new, softer seats include a full-size tray table and an elevated literature pocket,” Spirit said in a news release.
Spirit will start installing the seats in November and the process will continue through 2020 for all new Spirit planes.
“Pre-recline” is a buzzword in the airline industry — it just means seats don’t stand completely upright and have some recline built in and customers cannot adjust them further. Spirit says the exit rows will have even more pre-recline than other rows of seating on its airplanes.
You see pre-reclined seats more often on low-cost airlines like Spirit, which find that they reduce conflict between passengers. They are more lightweight than adjustable seats and take up slightly less space.
Spirit’s new seats, with lightweight foam and a composite skeleton, are made to be more comfortable without adding weight. This helps the airplanes maintain high fuel efficiency.
“Last year I signed a pledge to look at every facet of our guest experience and determine where we could improve,” said Ted Christie, Spirit Airlines’ president and chief executive officer, in the release. “This investment in our seats and onboard experience is a direct result of that commitment, and it also allows us to enhance our product value while maintaining our industry-leading cost structure.”
The airline is also adding more comfort to its “Big Front Seats,” which make it up its version of first class. These seats, which offer an 18.5″ width, will now have improved headrests. They are said to provide more thigh support as well because of their memory-foam design.
In the airline’s announcement, Christie explains that current metrics for comfort are not well understood by passengers.
“We also believe it is time for our industry to rethink the concept of seat pitch, a metric many industry experts and aviation media have called antiquated and misleading, given the broad differences in seating measurements that more directly affect passenger comfort,” he said. “Our research shows that many guests not only misunderstand the concept of pitch, but strongly believe that comfort derives from usable legroom.”
With the new seats, he said, that extra usable leg room results from smart design. He’s clearly hoping that customers will view the no-frills, ultra-low-cost airline in a new light as a result of the changes.
How does that compare to other airlines? A Conde Nast article from late 2018 rated the Economy sections in American airlines based on legroom and found that JetBlue was the airline with the most space at 33-34 inches. Alaska Airlines had 32 inches (thanks to its purchase of Virgin America) and so did Southwest. Hawaiian Airlines offers 31-32 inches. American, United, and Delta all offer 31 inches of legroom in their planes.
Legroom, which is affected by the recline or pitch of seats, was once as much as 35 inches, but has been reduced to 31 inches and even as little as 28 inches by some airlines. That move allows for more seating in limited space, which lets airlines to make more money per flight.
An advocacy group called Flyer Rights says most airlines reduced their seat widths to 17 inches to save space to be able to add more seating. More seating means each flight has the potential to earn more money.
Customers are certainly feeling more cramped than ever before. See how airline seats have changed over the years in this YouTube video from Business Insider: