Spirit Installs Newly Designed Seats; Calls Seat Pitch ‘Outdated Metric’

A Spirit Airlines A320neo pictured at the company’s hangar in Detroit.
Credit: Ben Goldstein

DETROIT—Spirit Airlines has begun retrofitting its all-Airbus fleet with newly designed seats in a bet that passenger comfort can be enhanced without budging on seat pitch.

Installation of the first new seats was recently completed on a newly delivered A320neo at Spirit’s hangar in Detroit Metro Airport. 

Company officials briefing reporters there Dec. 17 said that the curved, ergonomically-designed seats—manufactured by Acro Aircraft Seating—offer two more inches of usable legroom compared to industry-standard flatback seats with identical pitch.

Credit: Spirit Airlines

Spirit officials insist that usable legroom, rather than seat pitch, is a meaningful metric by which passenger comfort should be judged. Usable legroom encompasses the distance from the center of the back of the seat cushion to the outer edges of the seat in front of it, while seat pitch measures the space between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in front of it. Spirit’s seat pitch in economy is between 28-29 in.

“When you look at usable space of the passenger for the kind of seat pitch configuration used by some of our competitors, it’s much smaller than our seats when we design them exclusively for passengers to be able to use that space,” Spirit VP-inflight experience Lania Rittenhouse explained. “Seat pitch doesn’t take into account how thick a cushion is, how much space is taken up by literature pockets or IFE screens, or how much space you can actually access as a guest.”

FAA deputy administrator Dan Elwell told U.S. lawmakers in September that FAA expects to reach a decision on minimum dimensions for seat length, width and pitch by the end of 2019, following live evacuation drills in November. That time line appears in doubt, however, with only two weeks left of the year and other priorities facing the agency including the extensive workload leading up to the recertification of the Boeing 737 MAX in 2020.

“We feel that, based on how our aircraft are designed and particularly with our industry-best aisle width, we have the ability to move guests in and out very quickly in the event of a potential evacuation,” Rittenhouse said of the FAA rulemaking. “They’ve always ruled in our favor and said what we’re doing is okay, and we believe it will continue to be okay.”

Spirit last had 144 aircraft in its all Airbus A320-family fleet, with plans to take delivery of 21 A320-neo family aircraft in 2020 and 21 more in 2021, according to data from the company. In October, the Florida-based ULCC firmed up an order for 100 A320neo-family aircraft—a mixture of A319neos, A320neos and A321neos—with purchase options for 50 more. The company, which is targeting 300 aircraft in its fleet by 2025, will continue leasing used aircraft to supplement deliveries as it targets double-digit annual capacity growth over the next several years.

Ben Goldstein

Based in Washington, Ben covers Congress, regulatory agencies, the Departments of Justice and Transportation and lobby groups.