Airline tries getting ahead on behinds

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 June, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 June, 2002, 12:00am

If the cap fits, wear it: if your bottom does not fit, you are on the wrong airline.

A lot has been written about the length and width of airline seats but hey, we are going to write some more.

The issue came to the forefront of our attention on Wednesday after United States carrier Continental Airlines claimed that it had the widest Business Class seats in the world at 22 inches.

Brave talk indeed.

If there is one question likely to put an airline on the back foot it is 'What is the width of your business seats?'

Ask them about pitch, angle of recline, length, or access to seat controls and they will fall over themselves to tell you how their seats are the longest, have the greatest pitch, and explain how you can select your favourite in-flight video by merely winking at the controls.

Chiropractors are wheeled out to explain that, in fact, lying flat on your back is not the best posture to sleep in.

An angle of something like 90 degrees is best for an uninterrupted night's sleep, say the experts.

So why everyone does not book themselves into Economy Class or rush home to prop up the head of their bed with a couple of dictionaries we will never know.

The reason width is such a contentious subject is largely due to the considerable discrepancy between the way many airlines quote seat widths.

Some provide the measurement between the inside of the arm-rests, others the distance between the middle of arm-rests and some from the outside of the arm-rests.

Therefore two arm-rests can increase or decrease the width of a business class seat by up to eight inches.

Continental's Onboard Product Marketing and Research department studied large airlines in regards to their seat features, including width.

The Chicago-based carrier garnered its information from overseas airlines' Web sites, seat manufacturers and airline representatives.

Based on that information Continental can claim its new BusinessFirst seat is wider than any competing airline's business class seat.

Provided they are measured between the armrests.

Continental found that from published information, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways had a business class seat measuring 20.5 inches.

Among the US carriers United Airlines seats were 20.5 inches wide, Northwest Airlines 20 inches and American Airlines also 20 inches.

Across the pond British Airways' seats are 18.5 inches and Virgin Atlantic 20 inches.

And to prove a point, Continental wheeled out some expert opinion.

According to general statistics, 50 per cent of the general population falls asleep on their side, 25 per cent on their back and 25 per cent on their stomach.

We do not dispute the fact that wider seats are more comfortable ceteris paribus.

But people are not equal. They are all different shapes and sizes.

Therefore, a 6'4' individual weighing 250 pounds would probably find a British Airways business class seat very uncomfortable.

Likewise a 4'11' individual weighing 100 pounds might be just as comfortable in one of Continental's economy seats, so why spend the money on the extra inches?

What to do?

By adapting the Body Mass Index chart (see attached), Lai See has developed what we believe is the first guide to optimum seat width for the business passenger.

Originally the 18.5 to 30 at the top of the chart denoted an increasing level of obesity.

By that rationale if, as Continental claims, it has the widest business class seats in the world, a 6 foot individual weighing 175 lbs might be better off taking the bus.

Graphic: laiseegbz