Palm Beach Post 04/21/10
A week after announcing fees for carry-on bags, Spirit Airlines is taking heat for installing seats that don’t recline on its newest planes.
Spirit’s two new Airbus 320 aircraft feature “pre-reclined” seats, spokeswoman Misty Pinson said Tuesday. That means even Spirit passengers who want to pay for reclining airline seats won’t have that option.
The Miramar-based airline put the first A-320 into service on March 14 for the Fort Lauderdale-Washington, D.C., route. The other arrived last week and currently is being used on flights between Fort Lauderdale and New York’s LaGuardia airport. Two more A-320s will join the company’s fleet this summer, and both will feature the “pre-reclined” seat design, Pinson said.
Some Spirit passengers are complaining the new planes leave them more cramped than ever.
“I hate sitting upright,” said Eve Greene, who recently traveled from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to New York’s La Guardia airport on Spirit’s new A-320. “It felt cheap and uncomfortable.”
Greene said she was confused and frustrated by the fact that the seats didn’t recline. The aircraft she took on her return flight Tuesday had reclining seats, and Greene said there’s a “big difference” in terms of comfort.
Spirit’s A-320 planes feature 178 seats, including 174 “deluxe leather seats” and 4 “big front seats.” Deluxe leather seats are about 17 1/2 inches wide and have a 28-inch pitch. Seat pitch is the distance from the back of one seat to the front of the other, when the seat is not reclined. It’s considered the best measure of leg room on a plane.
Airbus 320s hold a maximum of 180 seats, though airlines that follow a standard, two-class cabin configuration can only fit 150 seats in the aircraft, according to Airbus marketing materials. Most airlines configure A-320s to have an average seat pitch of at least 30 inches, SeatGuru.com data show.
Matt Daimler, founder of SeatGuru.com, which tracks airline-seating information, said of the 1,000 planes in the SeatGuru.com database only five have seatbacks set to a 28-inch pitch. “That is the worst,” Daimler said.
Most low-cost carriers feature an average pitch of 29 to 30 inches, so they can fit additional seats in the plane and charge less. Major carriers offer at least one or two more inches of pitch and charge more, he said.
“You have to realize that you’re giving up some comfort to fly at those low prices,” Daimler said.
Spirit’s entire 30-plane fleet features one cabin class and two seat-types, with three seats configured on each side of the aircraft. On the company’s 26 A-319 planes and two A-321 planes, the deluxe leather seats have a pitch that can range up to 30 inches, depending on exit rows, Pinson said. Big front seats are about 18 1/2 inches wide with a pitch of 36 inches.
Spirit’s new stationary seats weigh less offering greater fuel economy, Pinson said. In addition, there are fewer moving parts built into the seat, which minimizes maintenance costs associated with broken seat backs. Pinson said the result is lower fares.
It’s customary for airline seats to recline. One other airline with stationary seats is low-cost carrier Allegiant Air. The Las Vegas-based airline began testing the seats in 2007. It has rolled out the design in 34 of its 47 aircraft, spokeswoman Sabrina LoPiccolo said in an e-mail Tuesday. Allegiant aircraft feature a 30-inch pitch, according to SeatGuru.com.
“Our customers comment that they enjoy the difference,” LoPiccolo said.
The decision to install stationary seats was based on comfort, configuration and keeping costs low, LoPiccolo said.
Last week, Spirit announced plans to charge passengers for carry-on bags that do not fit under the seat. The fee, which will apply to travel on or after Aug. 1, could cost as much as $45. The move sparked heated debate across the industry and among consumers over the increased costs and hassles of flying.
But Spirit reported ticket sales were up 50 percent the week of the announcement.
Bryan and Suzy Bordeaux said Spirit seats are pretty uncomfortable, even if they do recline. On Tuesday, they were traveling with their two small children and said they were upset already by the carry-on baggage fees. The idea of a non-reclining seat was unthinkable.
“Between the bag and the seats, I don’t know, they are kind of just piling things up here,” said Bryan Bordeaux. “What happened to customer service?”
Jaclyn Giovis Sun-Sentinel Staff Writer, writer Ihosvani Rodriguez contributed to this report.