It feels like not a day goes by when the airline industry, particularly for us on long flights to Hawaii, is looking for a way to squeeze something a bit more. Here’s a case in point today on the possible upcoming demise of exit row seats with extra legroom. As a caveat, to our knowledge, no airline has purchased these seats yet. But will they? 100% yes, they will. See why below.
We can’t remember how many times we’ve flown to and from Hawaii in exit row seats for more legroom. And with Hawaii flights, these extra inches of space take on a whole new meaning (just like safety does). Seriously, with flights over five hours in duration, extra legroom can make an otherwise unlivable situation workable. The exit row seats aren’t an entirely perfect solution – such as when they are next to a cold airplane door. But on the other hand, we’ve happily traded any discomfort, including often having a slightly narrower seat accommodating a tray table instead of one in front. But the extra legroom – oh my, yes!
Here’s what the airline industry has planned for us, which isn’t good!
The airlines, courtesy of premium seat manufacturer Recaro (in partnership with Airbus), have plans to eliminate what we know of as emergency-row extra legroom seats 0n narrowbody planes. They’re doing that in a way that reminds us of what we’ve seen in cars too. For example, editor Rob’s Mini Cooper has a seat extension that allows the seat to articulate out when desired or be retracted when not needed. That’s almost exactly what will happen to airline exit row seats on flights to Hawaii and elsewhere if this plan works.
Recaro Xtend seats are the culprits of the moment.
Honestly, we tend to love some of the Recaro airline seat innovations. We’ll share more about those in forthcoming reviews. Delta Airlines has them, for example, in their just delivered Airbus A321neo aircraft fleet they use on most Hawaii flights. Their first-class seats on that aircraft are highly functional, although the seat is not as comfortable for long durations as we would like. But they do include privacy wings on the headrests that are nothing short of brilliant. In any event, Recaro pretty much has it going on when it comes to airline seat innovation. But then there’s the Xtend, which we are far less excited about.
See these novel seats in action in the video below.
As you may know, and we just learned, the specific requirement of the FAA is that exit rows have a 13″ space in order for us to get out in the event of an evacuation. Recaro found a solution for narrowbody planes, currently those from Airbus. That includes the A321neo aircraft now used by American, Delta, Hawaiian, and United. The X-Tend seats also work for the A220 planes that may be used as Hawaiian Airlines’ future interisland fleet.
Give Recaro an “A” grade for creativity in resolving the problem and standardizing legroom throughout the economy cabin. Recaro says the new product can result in up to four additional seats on an A320, for example.
The XTend works by having a shorter seat cushion that has an automatic flip-down extension. When a passenger goes to sit down, they manually lift the additional seat part to create the standard-size seat. When they get up for any reason, down it falls.
Recaro said of the seat it is “unlike anything currently seen on the market.” We’d add that while this is the first such seat, it won’t be the last.
There’s some good news here with the XTend seat.
First is that it won’t be financially viable to convert the seats of an existing aircraft to add these new seats. Therefore you will see these on new planes from now on rather than on ones you are already familiar with. Second is that they currently are only available for Airbus, and not for Boeing aircraft including the ubiquitous 737 MAX used on many airlines’ Hawaii flights.
Another twist in the story is that exit rows on all but one airline have gone from free to paid.
These used to be something you could choose either when purchasing tickets, when checking in, or at the airport. But now these are extra cost extended legroom seats. The only airline that hasn’t figured that out is one. And were it not for the lack of current compatibility, this looks to be the best fit for that particular company, Southwest. But worry not, a convertible exit row seat available for the Boeing Max planes will come sooner than later. Anecdotally, editors Jeff and Rob snagged exit row seats on Southwest last week, and it was a world of difference — far better than the regular seating.
We aren’t sure whether the airlines would rather charge for extra legroom or be able to cram more seats into the aircraft.
Recaro has mentioned a special focus on Asia-based ultra-low-cost carriers for now. But we think it will go farther than that. We’ll see just how all this unfolds.
Jeff recently wrote a flight review covering exit row seating on Hawaiian Airlines He also compared exit row (“Extra Comfort”) seats with regular seats. Jeff is a confessed travel snob after traveling around the world since he was 15 (perhaps a story to follow). But even he is pretty happy with exit rows. Although the seats are just as narrow as regular economy, he has long legs, and then there is just less claustrophobia associated with the more legroom seating.
What do you think of the new Recaro/Airbus seat design for exit rows?