Airbus is looking into expanding its sleep comfort study to include a greater population but its organiser is defending the results of the initial phase despite its featuring only six participants.
It conducted the study, in association with the London Sleep Centre, to compare the quality of sleep in economy-class seats with 18in width against those of 17in.
But while the results appear to confirm that the additional space enables a more natural sleep cycle, particularly by allowing space for muscles to relax, Airbus senior vice-president and head of marketing Chris Emerson admits the sample size is relatively small.
He says Airbus is in “discussions” to expand the project to a second phase, with a view to taking the sample size to 180.
London Sleep Centre medical director Irshaad Ebrahim says there “needs to be a second stage”, in order to further the research.
But he believes the sample size would not have to be as extensive as Emerson suggests.
“You can’t lie in your sleep,” he says, pointing out that brain patterns from those occupying the 18in seat showed distinctly different traces from those in the 17in seat.
“I think the pilot study is very promising,” adds Ebrahim. “We have a robust set of data that is valid [but we] obviously need to look at more people.”
He says that additional research needs to explore ways to “add value” to the data, which could then lead to improved sleep in economy long-haul cabins.
Airbus head of passenger comfort Kevin Keniston says that related research by the airframer shows “almost half” of economy passengers are prepared to pay extra for a more comfortable flight.
This is reflected, he says, in the fare premium charged by some carriers on exit-row seats – although exit-row seating is differentiated by greater pitch rather than width.