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Tue, Apr 25, 2006

Imagine... SRO From New York To Paris

This Woulda Been A GREAT April 1st Story

The following is the kind of story that makes you immediately check the byline date to make sure it's not April Fools Day -- yup, that was almost four weeks ago (or 48 weeks in the future -- ANN already has some great ideas for next year's issue.)

But nope, this one seems for real. According to no less an authority than the New York Times, Airbus has been quietly looking into the idea of offering standing room only "seats" on its largest jets, in order to squeeze out the maximum amount of passenger-carrying capacity.

"To call it a seat would be misleading," Volker Mellert, a physics professor at Oldenburg University in Germany, told the Times.

From a purely financial perspective, the idea of using padded "backboards" equipped with harnesses to hold passengers firmly to their... vertical slabs... makes sense. Airlines have been subscribing to the "more passengers, less room" notion for awhile now.

By using newer seats with thinner seatbacks -- which should, theoretically, provide more legroom to current seating configurations -- to justify adding more rows instead, many airlines have been able to pack in the passengers like so many no-free-meal sardines.

But at least those were... you know, seats.

Airbus has reportedly pitched the idea to several Asian carriers, although none have agreed to the notion just yet. By utilizing the SRO option, an airline could reportedly offer the full 853-passenger configuration for Airbus's A380 superjumbo, while still offering three-class seating (the current maximum for the A380 is for all-coach-class seating).

An additional six "seats" could also be fitted to a typical Boeing 737, according to the Times, for a total of 156 -- and as many as 12 could be added on a Boeing 757 for a total of 200.

For their part, Airbus denies the rumor. "Our passengers and customers want more and more comfort," said Airbus spokeswoman Barbara Kracht. "We're going in the direction of more comfort, not in that direction."

True, passengers want greater comfort... but airlines want greater capacity, and it's not the passengers who buy jets.

Our bold prediction: look for the new "Meathook" class on some overseas carriers, at least, within the next few years.

FMI: www.airbus.com

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