February 12, 2013 How not to use a 777
The costs of flying a commercial plane are simple to understand. There is the fuel for the flight, the debt on the aircraft, the cost of the meals, the salaries of the pilots, FA’s, and all of the ground staff, and the ground services. The more people that can be packed on the plane the less each passenger has to pay for his or her ticket. So, it’s in the airlines best interest to do exactly that. While airlines are quick to announce improvements to their product, downgrades pass with little notice.
The 777 entered into service in 1996. Economy, Steerage, Y was originally designed with nine abreast seating. The common layout is 3-3-3, three seats on each side of the plane with a three seat center section. Some airlines used a 2-5-2 configuration. Anyways the nine-abreast configuration has been starting to disappear. Carriers such as Emirates and Air France followed by KLM have switched to a 3-4-3 configuration adding a seat to the center section. Seeing as the plane cannot get wider the space for the extra-seat comes from decreasing the width of all the other seats and the aisles by roughly an inch-and-a-half. That may not sound like much, but when one is crammed next to a person of size who is already spilling over the armrest, this change only makes that worse.
While Emirates and AF/KLM have had the 3-4-3 configuration for several years now it has seen a surge in popularity. Recently Air New Zealand and most distressing of all American Airline are both ordering their 777-300ers with the new configuration and this past week Air Canada order new 777-300ers in a 3-4-3 configuration.
In addition to the reduced width the 20-30 extra people require feeding and watering as well as facilities. More bodies using the same resources means fewer resources for everyone on the plane. On a two hour short-haul flight seat width and comfort may not matter, but on a twelve hour flight to New Zealand comfort matters, a lot. I would recommend avoiding those configurations if at all possible.