Regulator Says British Airways Cramming So Many Seats Into New Airbus A320neos May Be Unsafe

British Airways crams seats into their Airbus narrowbodies.

  • “Club Europe,” their intra-European business class (which has a blocked middle seat), offers 30 inches of pitch. That’s the distance from seat back to seat back. It’s the same as the worst coach seats in American’s new densified “Project Oasis” planes.

  • Meanwhile standard economy has 29 inches of pitch. In contrast, European discounter Ryanair offers a minimum of 30 inches of pitch to all passengers.

British Airways Airbus A319

British frequent flyer blog Head for Points notes what BA has done to squeeze passengers into seats in their new Airbus A320neos.

the toilet was removed from the back of Euro Traveller to fit in an additional row of seats, and replaced with micro-toilets built into the back wall of the galley

the seats behind the emergency exit door were replaced with ‘no recline’ ultra-thin Recaro seats to allow a second additional extra row of seats to be fitted in …drop down monitors were removed, along with the tables in Club Europe, to save weight. there are no waste facilities or drinking water at the rear of the plane because of the need to fit in the loo..

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has determined (.pdf) that there’s too much weight at the back of the plane. With middle seats blocked up front for Club Europe, BA is having to block the last one to two rows of coach to compensate.

According to Head for Points, “Lufthansa has also had to block seats on its ‘densified’ A320neo aircraft, although this is only one row.”

There’s a limit, it seems, to how many seats airlines are able to cram into planes but not for the reason some U.S. consumer advocates have suggested. Groups like Flyers’ Rights have argued that evacuation standards may not be met with more passengers on planes. It turns out that weight and balance issues create a tail-heavy situation in airlines that offer more space to passengers up front.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary, I am confused by your article. The headline says a320neo, the airworthy directive only mentions a320neo, but your first line says “British Airways put 37 rows of seats into their Airbus A321neo aircraft” and then the article continues to discuss British Airways a321neo.

    So is the A321neo covered by this airworthy directive since it only mentions in the linked pdf the following models “Airbus A320-251N, A320-253N, A320-271N and A320-273N aeroplanes, all manufacturer serial numbers”? None of these are an a321neo.


  2. With or without imminent safety concerns from regulators causing problems for airline “cram in passengers” plans, the airline passengers as a whole would benefit tremendously from government regulation that mandate that passenger airline operators meet or exceed some set measure of seat pitch, seat recline, aisle width, bathroom count/size and other such “comfort” and “base service” measures. This would enable a more competitive marketplace by making it far easier for consumers to comparison shop for a given base service/product.

    Is there any good reason to believe that airlines being regulated for basic safety standards has made the passenger airline marketplace way less affordable for consumers? There is no better reason to believe that airlines being regulated for basic comfort/service standards would make the passenger airline marketplace way less affordable for consumers than is currently the case.

    But in View from the (so-called libertarian ideological) Wing, it is to be expected that there will be excuses and arguments made for why government regulation should not be what it can be.

  3. This information you quoted seems inaccurate. It looks like they are moving to a space flex configuration. They are not removing toilets completely, just moving them to the back galley. There will most likely still be a half functional galley in the aft of the aircraft (similar to Delta, JetBlue, Spirit and Frontier space flex configurations). Most A320’s have two rows of emergency exit seats by the over wing exits standard, one for each of the two sets of windows. 186 seats is dense, but that is how Frontier’s A320’s are configured, and that’s also considering that they don’t block off middle seats in the first few rows of the aircraft.

  4. Of course, the obviously solution would be for them to move “club europe” to the back. They’ve already said they only provide the “cabin” because those connecting to international premium seats expect something better than regular coach. Who cares if they end up being last off?

  5. On our transcon JFK-LAX-JFK last week, yet again I was reminded of just how sadistic and unfair any row pitch under 32” is when our flight to LAX was in a 35” pitch extra legroom Comfort+ seat aboard Delta’s Airbus A330-300, while our return flight to JFK was in a 31.5” pitch Main Cabin seat aboard a Boeing 767-400, and my partner, who is not very tall at 5’4”, but has reduced mobility in his left leg owing to Polio he had as a young child, had repeated episodes of severe cramping and significantly elevated pain because he could not extend his leg in such limited space.

    We could’ve – and by midflight it was abundantly clear, SHOULD’VE – booked a later flight that had seats available in Comfort+ instead, but with trips from JFK to midtown Manhattan taking up to 90 minutes, we didn’t want to take flights that arrived later than our 11:05am flight, which was around 7:45pm (after waiting nearly 25 minutes for a gate to open up at Delta’s Terminal 4 during the peak evening hours).

    But, given the severe cramping he experienced during that flight in a Main Cabin row, and just as was experienced in the past when we flew to Dublin aboard Aer Lingus’s Airbus A330-300 in a 31” pitch row outbound, but a 32” pitch row for the return, as well as when he flew Vueling 2-years ago from Berlin to Barcelona for a shorter flight in that terrible airline’s ridiculously overcrowded cabins in a 29”
    pitch row and from the moment his plane touched down texted me with messages about how much pain he was experiencing with a request to “never, ever” fly that airline again, the fact is, that anything below 32” row pitch in our home cannot be flown anymore.

    And that’s for someone who is 5’4” – so we can only imagine how much harder it must be for those who are even taller, especially if they face any kind of mobility challenges.

    Sorry – NOT sorry.

    But the LIES about packing on too small and too narrow seats being the price paid for low fares are just that: LIES.

    I say this because there’s countless billions of dollars being sucked out of airlines each year via the obscenely generous, greed fueled, borderline criminal, stock buybacks, along with compensation packages for top executives that when taken together for the senior most executives easily surpass $50 million per year at airlines like American, Delta, United and British Airways.

    So this notion that packing in as many seats per row at sub-32” pitch is rubbish that gullible fools or those that profit handsomely from others’ misery while they NEVER, EVER experience the excruciating pain that some passengers like my partner did on that Delta LAX-JFK flight last week are forced to endure simply because of others’ greed, arrogance and callousness.

    Mind you, he’s NEVER asked for freebie upgrades to extra legroom sections, but as airlines have shrunken seats and crammed more rows than ever in their aircraft to better fund these obscenely generous multi-billion dollar stock buybacks, that has meant he now has to pay what amounts to a “disabled tax” whenever he flies as last week’s flight made clear that the risk of severe cramping and elevated pain for a leg that already poses challenges for him that nobody can possibly understand unless they experience it themselves or see a loved one suffering in pain right before their eyes as I have seen and learned in our 14+ years together.

    It’s all so unfair – and unreasonable that for some reason the vast majority of flyers are now treated with such contempt and disrespect even though the reality yet still is that NO MAJOR AIRLINE CAN EXIST WITHOUT THE 85% or so of passengers who fly in economy class.

    Worse still is this fiction that when it comes to flying, fare paying passengers are being forced to cram into seats much smaller than we have in our own homes; at our offices; or in our cars – and in seats too small and narrow that NONE of us would ever buy seats so ill-suited and totally inappropriate for use longer than 30 minutes (and that we’d NEVER tolerate for more than 30 minutes) for any other activity in our lives.

    The truth is NONE of us would ever purchase seats so small and uncomfortable for use in our own homes or in our cars.

    And while some may work for horrible bosses who force them to sit on hard as cement chairs/stools at work (I did long ago…), the fact is, if we found ourselves faced with seats as horrible as found on our airplanes in economy class these days at work, most of us would insist on better chairs – or would find a new job with better chairs ASAP.

    So, why are our airlines afforded an undeserved exemption from providing seats that most adults can fit into?

    Especially when billions of dollars per year are being wasted funding obscenely generous stock buybacks for those who seldom, if ever, have to endure the pain and discomfort that most ordinary flyers do – or worse yet, that imposes undue hardships on passengers who, like my partner, has reduced mobility resulting from an insidious disease he had at 5-months of age, or from any of the many other circumstances beyond their control that any one of us could find ourselves experiencing in our lives?

    It’s all so shameful and immoral that we allow ourselves to be conned by snake oil salespeople who lie through their teeth about mythical low fare while they’re lining their own pockets and being pampered and cosseted in the pointy end of the plane.


    Absolutely shameful.

    But most won’t understand just how shameful it really is until they sit beside a loved one and watch helplessly as they grip their leg repeatedly (which is how I knew my partner was in severe pain during our flight because he seldom verbalizes it) because the cramping and resulting pain was THAT bad.

    Or of course, unless they experience something like that themselves.

    I felt so horrible knowing that I made the decision to book the earlier flight that was sold out in Comfort+ because we wanted to get home by 10pm last week – instead of 11:30, 12midnight or later.

    But after that flight, we agreed, it simply is impossible for my partner to fly anymore if the row pitch is less than 32” (we use that number based on the Aer Lingus flight referenced above) – but even then, we discussed how bad that flight was for him, and the elevated pain he experienced even through this past weekend, and the general rule going forward is all flights MUST be extra legroom Comfort+ (or Economy Plus, etc.) or better unless absolutely necessary, and then NOTHING less than 32” row pitch.

    Anything less than that for him is no longer possible due to the severe cramping and elevated pain it causes.

    And again, that’s for someone who’s 5’4”; we really can’t imagine how much worse things are for those taller than he is.

    When we see the likes of Doug Parker, Alex Cruz, Ed Bastian or Oscar Munoz (although he’s not nearly as tall as Dougie P or Eddie B) cramming themselves regularly into the too small and too narrow “no legroom” seats they sell and profit so handsomely from I might be open to changing my mind on the appropriateness of these seats so horrible these CEOs are hardly, if ever, seen flying in them.

    But until that happens on a regular basis, I’m not buying their, or their high priced marketing peeps, LIES.

    Like I said earlier: “Sorry. NOT sorry.”

    Their hideous, “no legroom” seats are too damn small and too damn narrow.

    They know it, too. And if they truly believe otherwise, well, show it by actions and vow to only fly in the 30”-31” pitch rows for EVERY FLIGHT regardless of distance for not less than 1-year.

    Then I might believe there’s a kernel of truth to their insistence that these horrible seats are perfectly fine for the rest of us who make their oh so generous compensation packages possible to endure for our own flights.

    Of course, I’m NOT holding my breath waiting to see that happen!

    But, it would be nice to see any or all of these CEOs, their colleagues in the C-Suite, and of course the coddled Board members take up this challenge/dare to fly for an entire year, and every flight, in the horrible seats they claim (lie) are perfectly fine for the rest of us as for sure those sub-32” pitch seats are anything but “perfectly fine” for my partner.

    That much is for sure as I saw it once again last week, and I promised him over the weekend when we talked about it, that I’ll never book him in a seat like that again.

    And I apologized for making the bad decision originally favoring the earlier flight where C+ was sold out over the later flights where it was still available until a few days before our flight back, too.

  6. @Andy 11235, being in the back of the plane is not only bad for being the last ones off, but it’s also bad for turbulence. I would not pay extra to sit in the back of the plane, even if it was lay flat seats.

  7. I disagree with @Howard Miller’s post – both it’s length and it’s contents. Anyone who uses the word “shameful” is making an emotional statement and not referring to the realities of (cheap) air travel. I will however admit that for some people (the disabled, the broad-shouldered, the obese, etc.) there is a genuine cost others may not have to deal with, but I’m not sure this is a provider’s problem.

    European airlines real problem is overcapacity in the market with respect to what it can structurally support at an acceptable economic return.

  8. This is not BA specific, Lufthansa have also stopped selling at least the last row due to this same issue as set out in the EASA directive

  9. I really think your title and general coverage of this is misleading. The regulator has NOT told BA they have put so many seats on their NEO it’s unsafe. The issue is a temporary restriction in the allowable CG envelope and BA has addressed this limitation by blocking seats.

    Once the CG issue is addressed BA will be able to resume selling all those seats again without changing the cabin at all. This is an Airbus problem not a BA problem.

    That’s not to say their seating density doesn’t suck. It does. But that’s not the issue here.

  10. Some times I wonder what the hell happened to those companies who are not satisfied with the revenue and income that they are already extraction from the public , in some cases the public would make great sacrifices in order to be able to buy the tickets , now i think they are very oppressive knowing that flying is a must (in other words members of the public bound to fly) Thanks

  11. It seems safety or passenger safety comfort does not count for anything these days unless ur flying asian airlines of some sort.

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