Spirit Airlines has unveiled newly designed seats to maximize usable legroom, as the Florida-based carrier believes passenger comfort can be improved without rethinking the ultra-LCC’s 28-inch seat pitch.

Created by UK-based Acro Aircraft Seating, Spirit’s new seats will use thicker padding and ergonomically designed lumbar, providing all seats with an additional inch of pre-recline and an extra inch of width for middle seats. The company said the enhancements will allow for a wider range of healthy postures and movements, offering an additional two inches of usable leg room compared to industry-standard flatback seats with the same pitch.

Speaking at the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) expo in Los Angeles Sept. 9, Spirit president and CEO Ted Christie said seat pitch—the amount of space in between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in front of it—has become an outdated measure of passenger comfort. 

“We believe it is time for our industry to rethink the concept of seat pitch, a metric many industry experts and aviation media have called antiquated and misleading, given the broad differences in seating measurements that more directly affect passenger comfort,” Christie said. “Our research shows that many guests not only misunderstand the concept of pitch, but strongly believe that comfort derives from usable legroom.”

Spirit partnered with Charted Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CHIEF) to conduct a research study that measured the public’s perceptions around seat pitch and seat comfort. Results from that study showed just 5% of respondents were able to accurately describe seat pitch.

“Pitch is an outdated industry term for measuring seat comfort, as it does not consider a range of important key factors like seatback curvature, seat width, cushion thickness and usable space,” CHIEF CEO Steve Barraclough said. He added that usable legroom—rather than seat pitch—is a superior metric by which passenger seating should be judged.

“The ‘usable legroom’ metric is the distance from the center of the back of the seat cushion to the outer edges of the seat in front. We believe this metric provides a potential basis that all airlines could calculate and could offer the passenger new, evidence-based information about the potential comfort of the seat,” Barraclough said.

Not everyone is ready to ditch seat-pitch as a metric of passenger comfort, however. 

“As far as the consumer is concerned, many air carriers have already re-thought the seat pitch argument. And guess what? They think less is more, except when it comes to the number of passengers. In that case, more is best,” Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) national president Lori Bassani told ATW.

“Seat pitch is less, aisles are narrower, many people are larger and less mobile, and all are stuffed into smaller spaces ... It sounds to me like they are attempting to spin the factual reality of the situation,” Bassani added.

The US Congress included a provision in last year’s FAA Reauthorization Act calling on the FAA to establish minimum seat dimensions “that are necessary for the safety of the passenger.” House Subcommittee on Aviation chairman Rick Larsen (D-Washington) has said his panel will hold a hearing in the coming weeks on the law’s implementation, during which lawmakers will have an opportunity to ask FAA officials why they have yet to initiate a rulemaking on seat size, among other matters. 

Ben Goldstein, ben.goldstein@aviationweek.com