Airbus, the French maker of jets, is trying to make you comfortable. It only takes an inch, they say, releasing a study from the London Sleep Center that says 18-inch-wide seats allow for 53% more passenger sleep time than those 17 inches wide. 53% more sleep! That’s a lot. (The French have always known something instinctive about comfort.) But the companies whose big logos go on the outside of Airbus jets don’t want to hear it. They’re the ones pressed for cash, needing to economize. The airlines want you to arrive safe and happy if possible, but a little tired? They can live with that.
What’s in an inch? The Airbus 380 can seat 525 passengers. If you take an inch off of each seat, you get almost 44 feet. Airlines want to use that space to make money, preferably by putting in more seats. (See American Airlines Stuffs in Seats.) An inch can mean a lot. Ask a kid trying to get on a ride at a carnival (“You must be THIS tall to ride this ride.”) Ask an NBA scout, a surgeon, a painter or–come to think of it–an airline engineer. Drag coefficients contribute to the aerodynamics on the outside of the aircraft, sure, but if they miss an inch on the inside, that’s a drag too. And somebody loses sleep over it.