British Airways forced to reduce A320neo seating capacity due to safety concerns

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As if British Airways didn’t have enough to deal with at the moment, it has been forced to reduce the seating capacity on its new A320neo short-haul aircraft due to safety concerns.

BA has kept this quiet so far and I have not seen it reported elsewhere.

I should say upfront that I am not an aerospace engineer and I am guessing that you are not one either.  The situation as I describe it below is very much in laymans terms, but I have included a link to the official EASA notification.

We covered the launch of the new ‘Space Flex’ A320neo aircraft on Head for Points – see here.

These aircraft are not very pleasant to fly if you are down the back:

the toilet was removed from the back of Euro Traveller to fit in an additional row of seats, and replaced with micro-toilets built into the back wall of the galley

the seats behind the emergency exit door were replaced with ‘no recline’ ultra-thin Recaro seats to allow a second additional extra row of seats to be fitted in

duty free sales were dropped, because there was no space in galley for the trolley due to the loo moving there

drop down monitors were removed, along with the tables in Club Europe, to save weight

there are no waste facilities or drinking water at the rear of the plane because of the need to fit in the loo – this means all waste and requests for tap water require a trip through the Club Europe cabin

To summarise a major engineering problem in one line, this has caused a problem.  There is now too much weight at the very back of the aircraft.

During computer testing, it has been discovered that this could lead to problems in certain scenarios, such as during an aborted landing when the nose of the aircraft needs to be raised quickly.

Here is the exact wording of the directive issued by EASA – you can download it here:

Analysis and laboratory testing of the behaviour of the flight control laws of the A320neo identified a reduced efficiency of the angle of attack protection when the aeroplane is set in certain flight configurations and in combination with specific manoeuvres commanded by the flight crew, as described through Section 2 of Airbus Flight Operations Transmission 999.0059/19.

This condition, although never encountered during operations, if not corrected, could lead to excessive pitch attitude, possibly resulting in increased flight crew workload.

To address this potential unsafe condition, Airbus issued the AFM TR, limiting the centre of gravity envelope, which prevents the aforementioned condition, and the Flight Operations Transmission 999.0059/19, providing aeroplane loading recommendations.

There are almost 50 airlines currently flying the A320neo and all of those which have gone with the ‘Space Flex’ interior are facing the same issue.

However, the presence of Club Europe causes an additional problem for BA compared to ‘one class’ airlines flying the same aircraft.  Airlines operating the A320neo have been told to ensure that passengers are seated to ensure an even weight distribution.  However:

in Club Europe, the empty middle seat makes it difficult to move weight to the front of the aircraft

the extra seats squeezed into the second half of the plane vs the front half also lead to additional weight at the back

In order to address this, it appears that BA is often having to block the last one or two rows of the aircraft.  This is dependent on the number of rows of Club Europe and other factors such as cargo and baggage loading.  As well as not allowing passengers to select seats in those rows, cabin crew will also announce that passengers may not move to them after take-off.

This is not just a British Airways problem.  Lufthansa has also had to block seats on its ‘densified’ A320neo aircraft, although this is only one row.  BA is presumably being forced to block an additional row on occasion because it operates with larger business class cabins.  Other airlines with a ‘missing middle seat’ business class will also have to make adjustments.

As well as having a revenue impact, this clearly makes a farce of the entire ‘Space Flex’ programme.  The ultra-thin seats …. no recline …. reduced leg-room …. micro-toilets …. are all in vain unless Airbus can design a fix for the issue.  Let’s hope they can find something.

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  1. Let’s hope they can’t solve it, and go back to the slightly less cramped configuration. Don’t you just love karma?

    • flyforfun says:

      Yes! My thoughts exactly! The squeeze has been put on passengers long enough in the game of race to the bottom!!

      It’s time there was a regulatory minimum set for passenger comfort as well as passenger safety.

  2. I’m in Malaga having just flown on an A320 bro that was 3/4 full. The pilot made clear at least 3 times in time flight that passengers must return to their original seat if they got up ‘due to plane weight issues’. Thought it was a little odd at the time but now it makes sense!

    • Lady London says:

      Now I understand why, when I used to fly Ryanair a loooong time ago, Ryanair captains also made similar announcements about not moving from your allocated seat and always returning to it.

      the microtoilets was the final straw for me. Not even sure Ryanair went that far….

  3. Troll Basher says:

    Just put the middle seat divider back into CE, load a few more bottles of Castlenau; bish bosh, sorted… 😁

  4. The issue here is that Airbus aircraft have a set flight envelope that pilots are unable to operate outside (this is possible with a fly by wire system like on an Airbus).

    The forward movement of the centre of gravity of the aircraft due to weight means that when you get unusual situations, the pilots will potentially be unable to control the aircraft as the manoeuvre to do so is outside of the control envelope.

    • So 737 Max type issues now rearing their head on Airbus aircraft due to the quest for money regardless of the interests of safety………………….

      • Troll Basher says:

        No; completely different circumstances leading to “Potential” different issues.

        • The physics might be quite different but the underlying issue that both Boeing and Airbus have now designed and allowed planes to enter service that result in potentially unsafe conditions in flight in the chase for greater revenue efficiency is surely much the same?

          Of course the fix on the Airbus aircraft in terms of just reconfiguring the seating layout is technically simpler to implement and also a lot more certain to work than with the 737 Max control system issues.

          • Shoestring says:

            not at all, balancing weight on flights has to be done on all small to medium commercial aircraft, every flight (not sure if the supersize aircraft get away with it)

            so the instruction from EASA simply formalizes this in a certain way

          • Well they clearly had to formalize this guidance because the airlines had already ignored normal good practice in the name of chasing greater total revenue take per flight and regardless of passenger comfort and/or possible safety issues (all very different from the days of the Pan Am tv series).

            Clearly it wasn’t realised this configuration would have these problems initially (as with extending the 737 design’s capacity further as the 737 Max) or the airlines wouldn’t have spent all this money reconfiguring the aircraft in this way (or having them delivered new in this configuration) only to have to then undo it at significant further cost……………..

        • The end result here is actually very similar to the MAX issue, except that with the MAX the aircraft computers try to fix the problem – with bad results – whereas here it is down to the pilots to fix. The pilots CAN fix it, the warning notice – as I understand it – is that if, for example, you have to do abandon your landing at the last second, the pilots have enough to worry about without needing to worry about the extra maneouvres required to deal with the centre of gravity issue.

          • Troll Basher says:

            Rob, the point is surely that the Airbus issue is a result of cabin densification. The issue has been identified and is being addressed proactively.
            The MAX however could throw you a fatal curve ball whether there were 180 or 8 seats fitted to it.
            Only one type has ended up with a global grounding…

          • Surely the problem with the MAX is that the computers are fed false information from insufficient sensors, and trying to fix a problem that didn’t exist.

          • @TrollBasher

            I think if the 737 Max only had 7 seats fitted to it its flight control issue would never occur as it would have so much power in reserve to handle any possible centre of gravity issue.

            All the issues with the 737Max arise out of trying to extend an aircraft design only originally intended to carry as few as 85 passengers in its first incarnation to carry as many as 210 passengers over a far longer range than the original aircraft was ever designed for. They should have started again with a clean sheet of paper as the 797 or whatever but the financial savings of not having to fully certify and retrain pilots for an entirely new aircraft type got the better of the money focused members of the Boeing Board.

    • Lady London says:

      Sorry, but which idiot thought that up ?

    • You can still fly the aircraft outside it’s CoG limits, to some extent, but the handling characteristics, stall speed etc will be degraded.

  5. Richard M says:

    Other than price, BA are little different from Ryanair. This looks like another Alex Cruz Special: Save a sprat and lose a mackerel……

    • Steven Jack says:

      Wow Richard, you only need to compare the two airlines baggage policy to see BA are streets ahead of Ryanair, 2 bags of up to 23KG in the cabin at no extra charge, plus checked baggage is typically chewier and more generous in the allowance. BA have their faults but they are going up against the low cost operators , personally they win hands down for me.

      • Shoestring says:

        got my Summer Hols outward tickets last week – peak July 2020 – got them on Avios + Money but cash was similar – about £80 each incl 23kg checked bag

        LCC don’t come close plus you can’t book Ryanair/ EasyJet beyond March 2020 – you can book July on Wizz but it’s far more expensive with the checked bag

      • Why the hell would you need to take 2 x 23kg bags in cabin as hand baggage? Totally unnecessary! How many of those 23 kg bags actually get in the cabin before being taken off you and placed into the hold due to no space in lockers??

        • Shoestring says:

          when I carry my gold bars out to hide them at our place in the sun, I don’t fancy checking them in

      • Lady London says:

        + 1. Gotta be fair on BA here.

    • Basically other than flying out of Heathrow (much lower rail fares on the tube and nicer lounges and more convenient for those to the west of London etc) any discernible differences over Easyjet in particular (with Ryanair you are stuck mainly with Stansted and annoying promotional messages etc plus more trickery with checking in hold luggage) has been eliminated. So Cruz has succeeded in completely trashing the previous feeling that you were superior by travelling with BA in Economy. As long as you got a free sandwich and G&T and you got a 23kg hold bag included then you felt special travelling on BA.

      As Cruz only seems to understand the world of Vueling type short haul operations he unfortunately doesn’t seem to get this at all.

      • To be fair to BA, in my experience they do compete reasonably well with easyJet on price and if you have status then it sometimes makes sense to pay a little more for BA.

        On routes like London to Amsterdam where BA competes with the budget airlines and KLM, KLM seem to come out way more expensive

      • Lady London says:

        That;s very harsh Julian. See Shoestring’s comments above.

    • I’m struggling to understand what tangible benefits & advantages I get from a BA shorthaul flight versus an easyJet flight (with the easyJet flight costing sometimes half the BA price).

      • If you’re in Club the big ones are obviously included luggage, lounges etc…less so if you’re sitting at the back…

      • I did an easyJet out, BA back last week, with the same seat (1D) on both. BA is a ‘classier’ experience – I know there are many reasons why it isn’t, but the BA ‘way’ of doing things is substantially different to the easyJet way. I’m not saying that everyone prefers that, but it is tailored for the ‘middle aged business traveller’ market.

        I am also fed up of easyJet not using airbridges. At Luton last week we ended up queuing on the stairs to go down to a bus to be driven across to the plane …. it simply isn’t a premium experience. They won’t even pay for airbridges in Amsterdam even though they are on a gate which has them. Again, not classy.

        Of course, my easyJet one-way flight cost £63 (including the extra cost of reserving 1D) which my one-way BA Club Europe ticket back did not.

        • EasyJet use airbridges in Naples

        • Rob,

          On multiple occasions I’ve flown with BA and experienced something far less than this “classier way of doing things” you speak of. Queued on stairs in LHR/LGW, waiting for a super crammed bus, sitting on dirty seats on the plane, only to repeat the exact same upon arrival. Oh, and very shoddy IT issues.

          Oh yes, all of this for 1.5x the price of EasyJet. Only discernable difference? I fly out of LHR because I live close by. Thats it.

          If easyjet flew out of LHR i would not hesitate for one second to always fly with them.

        • Lady London says:

          You flew out of Luton, Rob. What did you expect? 🙂

  6. Funny enough I read last week that LH were having to do the same.

  7. blocking rows is fairly normal – when Ryanair operates flights below a certain occupancy level, they block the front and rear rows to push passengers into the middle.

    i remember flying a particularly empty a330 from HKG-SVO in June 1997 where all the economy passengers had to sit in the business class for landing.

    what would be interesting to know with BA is whether this issue only happens when they have more than X rows of CE, or when CE isn’t full, or under all configurations. devil is in the detail !

    • can’t be OK when CE is full or a free upgrades would solve the problem

      • Shoestring says:

        @jimA – don’t forget the moving curtain divider – so there could be 3 rows of CE or 15, that would make a helluva difference with the blocked middle (weightless)

    • Blocking rows when the flight is lightly loaded is nothing new, and they’re not turning business away.

      But in this case, they’re having to turn business away, with 12 seats unsold.

      • but the question is whether it’s going to be every flight, or just when they have a large business section … or just when they have a large business section that isn’t occupied …

  8. Like the nasty economy seats on the 787 and 777 this all comes down to Boeing and Airbus being pressured by the airlines over cost.
    The amount of things that AC is held responsible for on the net is startling, man at the top I know, but even so.
    I’m surprised BA did this as it’s completely LCC, and despite what others say I find BA a very different airline to Ryanair, EasyJet less so, but then EasyJet in my experience are not inexpensive.

  9. This makes me so happy 🙂 whether it’s BA or not. As some else said, karma.
    In an effort to squeeze as much money as possible from the seating configuration at the expense of passengers BA would appear to have scored an own goal. Less seating, no duty free to sell, tiny rear toilet.

    • It’s not related to the dense configuration. It happens as well in the BA CityFlyer fleet, where it’s quite common to be reseated just for landing and/or take off.

  10. Wonder if they’ll restrict the number of people queuing up for the rear toilets.

  11. nothing like making a nervous flyer even more nervous! I’m booked on one of these to Dublin and wondered why they’d blocked off the last row of seats. 🙁

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