• Joe Breitfeller

Redefining Seat Pitch: Spirit Airlines Promises More Legroom With New Ergonomically Designed Seating

Updated: Jan 11, 2020

Wildly successful Spirit Airlines is the airline that passengers love to hate, but low fares keep them coming back. Now the company is trying to enhance the customer experience with a new seating scheme that offers a greater “pre-recline” on non-reclining seats.

Spirit Airlines Airbus 319/Courtesy Spirit Airlines

Over the last few decades, there has been no shortage of negative stories about the flying experience with Spirit Airlines, yet cost-conscious budget travelers appear to have taken a “grin and bear it” attitude when it comes to saving money. According to Statistica, worldwide passenger load factors have increased on a near-consistent basis from 76.4% in 2009, to an average of 82.1% in 2019. In the most recent quarter, Spirit Airlines’ load factor increased from 83.7% to 85%, well above the industry average.

While some passengers have sworn off the ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) by “upgrading” to low cost carriers such as JetBlue and Southwest (with their generous baggage policy), Spirit seems to have achieved a winning strategy. With Spirit's "Bare Fares" everything is á-la-carte and the only included carry on is an 18”x14”x8” backpack sized item.

Spirit's new "Big Front Seat" - Courtesy Spirit Airlines

Last week at the Airline Passenger Experience (APEX) expo, Spirit Airlines announced the introduction of new seating as part of a cabin redesign which will roll out in November and continue through 2020. Two new designs, both for their “Big Front Seat” (premium) offering and standard economy seating were announced. According to a Spirit Press Release, the new premium seats, designed by HAECO Cabin Solutions will offer an ergonomically improved headrest and seat cushion with memory foam and Spirit branded yellow and black stitching. The new economy seats, designed by UK-based Acro Aircraft Seating, will have thicker padding, ergonomically designed lumbar support and a full-sized tray table. Previous seating formats included a half size aluminum tray table. Interestingly, Spirit is touting an additional level of “pre-recline” which is something other than the traditional and often maligned recline offered in most airline seats. We suppose it is the “spring” in the seatback, allowing passengers to lean back “a little” or sit straight up. Middle seaters can rejoice as the center seats in Spirit cabins will now include an extra inch of legroom.

Spirit's new standard seating - Courtesy Spirit Airlines

In the development of the new seating, Spirit teamed up with the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CHIEF) and conducted a research study sampling over 1,000 travelers about their perception of what “seat pitch” meant. Typically, pitch describes the distance from a point on one seat to another, but Spirit believes “usable legroom,” measured from the back of the seat cushion to the edges of the seat in front, is a more accurate measurement of passenger comfort. During the announcement Spirit Airlines President and CEO stated,

"Last year I signed a pledge to look at every aspect of our Guest experience and determine where we could improve. The 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 Spirit provided video below describes how they believe "pitch" should be measured. In fact, during the previously mentioned research study, only 5% of the travelers questioned were able to accurately describe the current definition of "pitch."

Regardless of whether buy "buy in" to Spirit's desire to redefine seat pitch, we applaud the airline for attempting to enhance the passenger experience, without adding weight to their aircraft. This is particularly important now that Jet- A fuel prices (typically the greatest airline expense) are on the upswing. While the onboard experience doesn't seem to be a deal breaker for many cost-conscious customers, we're sure that Spirit's loyal customers will welcome the cabin refresh. Who knows, maybe some of the passengers who have sworn off Spirit in the past will give the airline another look.

Source(s): Statistica, Spirit Airlines


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