Saturday, November 03, 2012

Shonky journalism on Stuff about airline seating

Shonky journalism.  That's what the Fairfax news article on Stuff claiming Air NZ wedges passengers into seats really is.  Not that is it that important.  It is a fairly trivial travel issue.  However, given the willingness of some journalists to slam bloggers for not being professional, it provides just a taste of how shallow and deceiving poor quality journalism can be.

The article reports on a survey that was undertaken by Business Traveller, which owns a website about airline seat plans called Seatplans, which like Seatguru and Seatexpert are not always reliable.

That's not journalism, that's reporting.  Journalism would involve doing some research, going through such sites and maybe the websites of the airlines themselves, or even ask them, and making it relevant to those reading it. 

The claim is that Air NZ's seat width is 28th, but Emirates is best.  It came 15th in legroom apparently, yet the range of legroom given is 12cm.  

Yet all of these claims are nonsensical unless you talk about specific aircraft on specific routes.

Air NZ has aircraft ranging from small turboprop Beech 1900 to Boeing 747s.  The idea that you can average out between them is flawed.

So what really is the picture?

First of all, the routes where this matters are long haul.  Yes you might complain about sitting for an hour on a domestic flight, but most people care only about price on short haul routes, but there is nothing in it between Air NZ and Jetstar on domestic flights - unless you have Air NZ Gold or Gold Elite status or Koru Club membership, so you can access the Space + seats on 737s an A320.  They offer an additional 2"- 5" of legroom.  A320s have slightly more seat width than 737s, but that wasn't noticed.

So what about long haul?  The long haul airlines flying to NZ are Air NZ, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Korean, China Airlines, China Southern, LAN, Malaysian and Thai.  Given the connections available, Qantas, BA, Etihad and Virgin Atlantic are worth looking at.

Now the lazy thing to do is to treat all aircraft by all airlines as relevant.  They are not.  So I have simply reviewed those that operate the long haul flights to NZ (or connect in Australia or the main flights connected to by those airlines).

Bear in mind this is all economy class.  If this really matters to you that much, pay more and go in premium economy or business class.

Seat pitch is the measure used for legroom, which just means the distance between the same point on two rows.  Bear in mind this is not the same in the whole cabin of individual planes, with there being ranges of 2-3 inches on some.  You can check this on websites like Flyertalk where there is a lot of detail about individual seat rows.

So let me fact check the claims in the article, particularly since I took a little time to provide you with a full list of seat pitch and widths for all long haul airliners serving NZ or on major connecting services.

1. "Air New Zealand economy seats were among the most cramped in the skies, the airline tied for 28th place out of 32 airlines with Qatar Airways, which has an economy seat width of between 41.9cm and 45.7cm"

No.  None of Air NZ long haul aircraft have seat widths of 16.5" (41.9cm), but the 17.9" (45.7cm) seat width is also more than any it has (by a tiny amount).  The relevant figures would be 43.4cm-45.2cm.  Air NZ's seat width on the 747s and 777-200s compares well with others being 4th equal.  The 777-300s are tighter at 6th, with Etihad, Emirates (777) Malaysian and Qantas (A330 only) being slightly tighter.  So in fact, Air NZ is rather average.

2. "Budget carrier Ryanair had the most cramped economy seats, offering just 40.6cm of width. Emirates' seats were the most spacious at 45.7cm to 52.1cm."

Yes on Ryanair, but you wont be flying it unless you're in Europe.  Emirates on the other hand draws with the others listed above for having the narrowest seats on the 777 flights to NZ.  Hardly the most spacious is it? Given Emirates squeezes an extra seat in its 777s (Air NZ now does on the 777-300s only) it is not surprising.  The A380s have an additional inch of seat width, but don't reach the 19" of the Singapore Airlines 777-300ERs.  So Emirates is not the widest, as far as flights to NZ as concerned.

3.  "Air New Zealand fared better in the economy legroom category, giving between 76.2cm and 88.9cm of space, putting it in 15th place"

Um not really. Yet neither of those figures represent seat pitch on long haul Air NZ aircraft, which are between those.  The 76.2cm applies to domestic aircraft and the A320s (30") excluding the Space + cabin, the 88.9cm IS Space +.  So given Space + doesn't exist on long haul aircraft, and the seat pitch on long haul aircraft is two inches more than the bottom figure, it really isn't useful.  In fact, Air NZ ranks second best with its 747s only, and other aircraft are comparable (but only some seats on the 777-200s rank with the worst).  

Draw your own conclusions, because it is complex, with different aircraft, airlines buy different seats for them, for different routes.  There is up to a four inch legroom difference between best and worst, and two inches in seat width, but you actually need to check the route you want to fly and what airlines operate there.  Frankly, unless you are flying to Europe from NZ, your choices will be limited to one or two airlines at best.  So choose carefully if this matters and you can't afford to uplift to the next class up.

Most importantly, do you own research, don't believe what a newspaper says.

Air NZ                             Seat Pitch     Seat Width

Boeing 777-300ER          32-33"         17.1"  (3-4-3 configuration) AKL-LAX-LHR
Boeing 747-400               32-34"         17.8"  (3-4-3)  AKL-SFO
Boeing 777-200ER          31-32"         17.8"  (3-3-3)  AKL-HKG-LHR, SFO, YVR, PER
Boeing 767-300               32"               17.5"  (2-3-2)  AKL-HNL, NRT, KIX, PPT

British Airways (from Sydney to Singapore and London)

Boeing 747-400              31"               17.5" (3-4-3)
Boeing 777-300ER         31"               17.5" (3-4-3)


Cathay Pacific (to Hong Kong and beyond)

Airbus A340                   32"               17.8" (2-4-2)

China Airlines (to Taiwan and beyond)

Airbus A330-300           32"                18" (2-4-2) 

China Southern (to Guangzhou and beyond)

Airbus A330-200          35"                 17.2" (2-4-2)

Emirates (to Australia and Dubai)

Boeing 777-300ER         34"               17" (3-4-3) AKL, CHC
Airbus A380                   32"               18" (3-4-3) AKL

Etihad (from Sydney to Abu Dhabi and beyond, codeshares Air NZ)

Airbus A340-600           31-33"          17" (2-4-2)

Korean (to Seoul and beyond)

Boeing 777-200ER         33-34"          18"  (3-3-3)
Boeing 747-400              33-34"          17.2" (3-4-3)

LAN (to Santiago)

Airbus A340                  32"               18" (2-4-2)

Malaysia (to Kuala Lumpur and beyond)

Boeing 777-200             34"               17" (2-5-2)

Qantas (from Sydney, Melbourne to Europe/Asia/North America)

Airbus A380                  31"               18.1" (3-4-3)
Boeing 747-400             31"               17.5" (3-4-3)
Airbus A330                  31"               17" (2-4-2)

Singapore Airlines (to Singapore and beyond)

Boeing 777-300ER         32"                19"  (3-3-3) AKL (and many routes from SIN to Europe)
Boeing 777-200ER         34"                17.5" (3-3-3) AKL, CHC
Airbus A380                   32"                19" (3-4-3) (many flights from SIN to Europe)

Thai (to Bangkok and beyond)

Boeing 777-200ER       34"                 17" (3-3-3)

Virgin Atlantic (from Sydney to Hong Kong and London, and from San Francisco to London, from Shanghai to London all connecting with Air NZ)

Airbus A340-600         32"                 17.5" (2-4-2)

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