There have been several stories about the tight bathrooms on the new MAX8.  This is not the only thing about the MAX8 that travelers might want to consider.

Look at this seating table, which compares the active MAX8 fleet as of the 1Q18.  The green area is the seating for the MAX8 and the yellow area is for the same airline and the 800NG seating.  The last column, variance, shows the percent change in seating density from the NG to MAX.

If the variance is in red, then there is a big increase in seating density.  Air China, American Airlines, and Skylanes increased seat density the most.  A green variance shows a decrease in seating density.  We note that several Asian airlines are installing fully reclining seats in the 737 MAX8 in business class, with a marked increased pitch for the longer-haul missions the new aircraft enables.

Bear in mind the cabin size for both models is identical.  Also, bear in mind that Boeing pitches the 737-800 as a 162-seater in two-class service. As the yellow area illustrates, several airlines have pushed way above that number.  If the seating is all one-class, like Southwest, then one can understand the density going above 162 seats.

On average, the list shows the 800NG fleet had 163 seats – closely following the Boeing guideline.  The MAX8 fleet averages 174 – nearly 7% more seats.   Seven of the airlines have kept the seat density the same from NG to MAX. Four reduced the seat density.  Ten increased seat density.

Anyone who has flown on an 800NG knows the sense of coach seat comfort; generally, it’s tight.  Now imagine taking 7% of that space away.  Then, as you wince at that, imagine you are seated on one of the aircraft listed in red above and lose 10%.

But it is important to note that airlines decide on seating.  Airlines want to increase ASK/ASM without adding to their fleet.  If they can squeeze in a few more seats, then this meets that objective.  Boeing’s seating is merely a guide.  Airlines can be expected to push for more.

Here are two examples that illustrate this strategy.

Both these airlines have modified the LOPA since delivery to optimize seating and revenue potential.  We have used the highest densities to illustrate this point.  Airlines have multiple LOPA layouts for different markets to optimize for specific markets. The American 757 shown above, for example, is used internationally. This was most certainly not what the aircraft was designed for when first delivered.

To illustrate how these various LOPAs can impact the fleet, we calculated a fleet average seating as shown in the next two tables.

Airlines tweak LOPAs to refine revenue potential and invariably that means finding ways to add seats.  It is not a MAX8 problem, it is an industry problem that does not seem to be resolved.

The Bottom Line

Seating density has increased as airlines pack more people into a fixed space.  With a few exceptions, the trend is toward higher density seating with tighter seat pitch and thinner seats.  Combined with the additional range capability the MAX provides over the -800, this means some potentially longer and more uncomfortable high density rides as airlines optimize profitability and premium class revenues.

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Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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