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. Notaloyalist says:

    ‘This is not just a British Airways problem’ yet the article leads with BA and a BA aircraft. Appreciate most readers are more interested in BA stories than Lufthansa but it’s clearly fashionable to trash BA…

    • Shoestring says:

      heh heh I bet if you were somehow able to know the total of BA vs Lufthansa flights that HfP readers take in a year, the proportion would be something like 95:5 (and that’s probably being generous)

      • Its good there’s not a whole cohort on LH! I’m happy to get a nice clean shower room, a place to nap after a flight and freshly prepared cocktails and barista coffees in the MUC/FRA SEN lounges what BA can barely offer in the so-called CCR and its not even a straight comparison… CCR vs FCT…comical.

        Like the losers on FlyerTalk who think they’re BA’s best customers with their TP manufactured CCR/GGL…there’s a reason BA is cheap and HON is bloody difficult.

        Don’t you think they’d be falling over themselves to defend LH if HON was as easy as CCR cards. Of course they would.

        • Shoestring says:

          yep I’m not saying BA’s better than Lufthansa or anything like that – just that it’s understandable the article/ image references were to BA

    • Lufty is only taking 1 row out. BA is often taking 2 out. EasyJet etc are taking none out because they have no empty middle seats.

      • Lady London says:

        Plus I guess the refinement with Easyjets A320neos would be that higher paying customers choose to put themselves in the first 5 or 6 rows, plus those customers are more likely to have same paid 2 pieces of luggage as well. Rest of the aircraft has mostly 1 hand luggage only.

        With no middle seat kept free that sounds like a nicely-weighted forward-placed load. So no wonder U2 is not having to block rear seats and can sell every seat on the aircraft.

        • The same happens with Vueling, Frontier, SAS,… the solution is to put Club Europe in the back of the plane 🙂

      • “Lufty is only taking 1 row out. BA is often taking 2 out”

        Perhaps a consequence of the added weight associated with containerised luggage.

    • Nope , it’s clearly reasonable to target the story to your target audience in the UK.

  2. Memesweeper says:

    >> Let’s hope they can find something. <<

    No, let’s hope they can’t. If Airbus and Boeing stopped listening to tight-fisted airlines, and listened more to their engineers, pilots and passengers, I suspect we’d be in a much better place.

    The MAX issues have their roots in the same place. If both manufacturers loose a packet on these configurations passengers might be better off in terms of space, comfort and safety as the manufacturers start making better, or just more cautious, decisions.

    And yes, some economy airfares might be a bit higher.

    • Totally agree. Drop the last row, install a proper galley and toilet…
      when BA inherited it’s fi st A320 (G-Busb) it had around 156 seats…..

    • Absolutely agree. Just a question – does anyone know if this will impact the BA A321neo as well? Yesterday I flew in one of these and, when it came to seat selection, I noticed the rear two rows unavailable for selection even though the flight was far from full. Didn’t bother me at all as I’d selected a row (emergency exit in fact) much further forward but I’m assuming the A320neo issue could also apply here; the A321neo is a big aircraft with a lot of weight concentrated towards the rear.

  3. VS:

    I was on the phone to Virgin seeking to clarify the position on using two accounts for a miles booking. Across two accounts we have enough for two pax ANA F redemption, 240k. In our case we have 140k one, 100k another. I was told you cannot use two-but I have read here it is possible?

    I’m not interested in business class, leaving orphan VS miles, or one of us in C and another in F!

    • My understanding is that you can take Mike from multiple accounts, but that you must have sufficient for a whole sector – i.e. If 2 people on a return flight, one person could pay 1/4 and the other 3/4 of the miles

      • So maybe I got a dud agent. She said to book one ways (not possible ANA) or pay transfer fee. Perhaps the first point “sector” is confused with one ways which as I say are not possible on ANA.

    • I manged to book two redemption tickets to JFK using a combination of my points and the wife’s. I also used a 2 x 2 for 1 voucher from each account to upgrade to a premium seat for each leg on both tickets. The tickets were booked for the wife and the daughter. I booked a cash ticket through the Amex travel offer at the time £200 off. I’m not sure if I was lucky with the agent or if this is normally allowed. The only stipulation was the agent required to speak to both of us during the booking process.

      • Thanks. What was the ratio of points between the two accounts?

        • I used 40,000 from my account and 40,000 from the wife’s. I was more surprised I could use my 2 for 1 to upgrade one leg to a Premium seat. As discussed previously I’m still not sure on the actual rules about booking redemption flights using shared points or booking flights for family members. My ticket was booked separately using the Amex travel service so wasn’t connected to the redemption booking for the wife and daughter.

  4. I flew back from Larnaca this weekend just gone….. Seated in 1D and F, asked to move to free seats in row 7/8 as had screaming baby in row 2. Captain denied my request. Had hideous flight home as result and was told I couldn’t move seats for this reason you state. However we flew out to Larnaca 4 days previous and moved seats to sleep for a few hours from 1D and f without any fuss and crew said nothing. Have complained to BA ECH as totally inconsistent and a worry…if there is an issue with this plane then not aok but be consistent and upfront….so far no response from customer services……Steve

    • Shoestring says:

      trim isn’t meant to matter nearly as much at all once the plane is in the air

      • Was it a NEO both ways? How was the Load? Weight balance? Cargo?
        All factors that impact….

        • Shoestring says:

          and was the request to move seats *before* take-off or after?

          • Request to move seats before take off on return as had a crying baby behind me , told had to sit in my seat entire flight so wasn’t just sit still for take off/landing. On o/b flight just moved and nobody blinked an eyelid!

        • Yes it was. Passenger loads similar b/ways. Can’t comment cargo loads. Issue is inconsistency outbound and inbound flight, and really one passenger at 95kgs moving back 4 rows – will that make the aircraft unsafe? If so Houston we do have a problem and BA need to make a statement and people should be aware. Crew were confused and unaware.

    • If the weight of two.people moving back a few rows made any where near a dangerous change to the flying characteristics of a large commercial plane, passengers would not be allowed to even get up to go to the toilet.

      • Exactly….and that’s my beef with them and what I’m asking them to answer….ludicrous…

  5. Most people are blaming greedy airlines, but I think the problem lies with tight fisted passengers who simply want the cheapest possible fare and then complain about the lack of comfort.

    15 years ago, I used to fly AA because they had “more room throughout coach” giving you a 34″ seat pitch in economy. The experiment failed because it didn’t increase load factors. Most passengers (not readers of this site, obviously) don’t have a clue about what sort of aircraft they are flying on, or how the pitch / width compares to other airlines.

    Ryanair have proved that the masses are happy to be treated like cattle if they can fly for a penny.

    Unfortunately, this means its not easy to fly short or even medium haul in comfort in Europe.

    • Shoestring says:

      Ryanair didn’t treat me like cattle! It was perfectly OK, no airbridge to be sure – a small payment (£8?) gets you 2 cabin bags [Passengers with Priority & 2 Cabin Bags, Plus/Flexi ticket or a connecting flight ticket can bring 1 small cabin bag which must fit under the seat in front of them (40cm x 20cm x 25cm). Priority customers can also bring an additional 10kg bag on board which must fit into the baggage sizer (not exceeding 10kg and dimensions 55cm x 40cm x 20cm) and will be stored in the overhead locker.]

      new planes, good punctuality, pleasant youngish crew – perfectly OK experience

  6. BA

  7. You pay Ryanair price, I expect to be treated Ryanair style such as 2 people vomitting after take off (stinking of alcohol) with no sick bags available on our last flight!!!
    However if I am paying BA prices,I am allowed to moan about service or lack of and uncomfortable seats. Thus have stopped flying BA short haul since I do find the new seats uncomfortable beyond about 90 minutes and fly others instead and being outside of London does help.

  8. Let’s not hope they can fix it so people can travel more comfortably

  9. The issue ironically tends to be with large club cabins, as you can have the front half of the aircraft 2/3rds full. Couple that with people standing right at the back queuing for the the loo and the CofG starts to get quite far back.

  10. Pregnant couldn’t even move in those toilets, had to squeeze out backwards……..

  11. I was on a a321 neo yesterday straight after reading this article. Cabin crew were mentioning that sometimes on arrival at the gate the plane rocks back slightly on a full flight, once CE have deplaned!

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