Many Airbus planes are wider than Boeings. So why don’t passengers always get roomier seats?

Here’s a fun fact for the day. According to Airbus officials, the cabin of the narrow-body A320 airplane is roughly seven inches wider than on the Boeing 737 – the airplane with which it competes.

Airbus officials made a big deal of this at this week’s APEXIFSA Expo in Anaheim – a trade show dedicated to improving the passenger experience for travelers. They say that the wider interior means airlines can install 18-inch wide seats, instead of the standard 17-inch ones. Or, they noted, an airline might put in two 17-inch seats in a row and then one 20-inch seat. Why might they do that? Because they could sell the extra wide seat for a higher price.

But here’s something that’s interesting. An Airbus official told me that many airlines still put in standard airline seats in the A320s, which means they don’t take advantage of the extra room. There seem to be two reasons. The first is efficiency. Airlines like to have the same seats for their entire fleet. So if they have Boeings and Airbuses, they may just prefer to have all 17-inch wide seats.

The second reason is less intuitive. A lot of the all-Airbus narrow-body fleets belong to low-cost carriers. Many of those airlines place a premium on having their airplanes on the ground for as little time as possible. For those airlines, an extra-wide aisle is very important. With an extra-wide aisle, passengers can take some time to put bags in overhead bins, while still allowing other passengers to walk behind them. This means planes can board faster.

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