Hey Hipmunk, I’d Like To Offer a Suggestion

The future of the Airbus A380 is a perennially favorite topic amongst those who follow and report on the aircraft manufacturing industry. And in this thread on the Business Traveller forums, travelers discuss the subject as well, and specifically question how many people base their flight purchases on the type of aircraft being used on the route.

Spoiler alert: Almost everybody selects flights based on price and schedule, and almost no one considers aircraft type when making their flight purchase decisions.

Still, many of the travelers express their preference for the overall comfort of the A380. And many also express their disdain regarding airlines’ tendency to cram more seats into high-density configurations.

I have to say that I was mightily impressed with the 380, and would, given the choice, opt to fly on it rather than any other aircraft. Why, because it is quieter, smoother and in EK’s case roomier. ~canucklad

I’m a 380 fan … It really is noticeably quieter and smoother … I really will try and seek long-haul flights that use it. It’s that much of a game-changer. I’m sure that as time goes by, other passenegers who get the chance to fly in it will feel the same way. ~TiredOldHack

Should airlines use the designator HD to publicise a High Density layout. There is such a choice of comfort levels, far beyond economy, business and First… its about time airlines told their customers what they will be getting ~MartynSinclair

That last comment is particularly interesting to me, as someone who used to work on the SeatExpert.com website. I think sites like SeatExpert and SeatGuru do a pretty good job of helping flyers figure out which of the seats on their flight are the best, but there still aren’t really any sites that do a good job of highlighting in-flight comfort advantages of competing flights that travelers can use prior to selecting a flight and booking a ticket.

Let’s face it, the airlines aren’t going to want to broadly advertise that a particular route will be operated by an aircraft that is designed to cram the maximum number of people into the fuselage. But that doesn’t mean the information isn’t available. In fact, the Global Distribution Systems (GDS) into which airlines input flight information make it possible for anyone who subscribes to the data to know not only what type of aircraft is being used on a particular route, but also what configuration of that aircraft is scheduled to operate.

Personally, I think of all the airline booking sites, Hipmunk is in the best position to highlight and take advantage of this information. Hipmunk already sorts flight options by “Agony” – why not include in that Agony calculus an aircraft’s configuration?

For example, because I know Air Canada operates the high-density configuration of its Boeing 777-300ER on the Montreal to Paris route, I ran a flight search on Hipmunk on a random date for flights from Montreal to Paris. Sorting by Agony, Hipmunk listed an Air Transat flight as the best option, with Air Canada flights filling the second and third positions, and an Air France flight coming in fourth. Hipmunk bases it’s Agony rating on a combination of price, flight duration and number of stops. Each of the top four options were non-stop flights and the duration of each was approximately 6 hours and 45 minutes.

So, even though the options were sorted by Agony, what it really came down to was price. The Air Transat flight cost $591, the two Air Canada flights were $700 and $720, and the Air France flight was $735.

Now, what if Hipmunk added an in-flight comfort dimension?

  • The Air Transat flight is being operated by its A300-330 model, which offers economy-class seat pitch and width of 32-33 inches and 17 inches respectively.
  • Air Canada operates the Boeing 777-300ER on this route. Economy Pitch and Width  = 31″ and 17″
  • Air France operates the Boeing 747-400.  Economy Pitch and Width = 32″ and 17.5″

In my humble opinion (and take it with a grain of salt, as I have never flown Air Transat), Air Transat is still the winner in the Agony department. For a ticket that costs $100+ less they offer good pitch and only a half inch less width than Air France. But when you compare the Air Canada and Air France options – I think I’d be willing to pay $15-$35 more for an extra inch of legroom and half inch of seat width on a 7-hour flight.

And I’d be willing to bet there are even bigger differences on other routes.

Personally, I would love to see Hipmunk, or some other booking site, take a run at this and really promote it. I think it would provide travelers with more opportunities to maximize their in-flight comfort and would put focus on the airlines’ efforts to continually add more seats at the expense of passenger comfort.

What do you think? Is any site already doing this of which I’m not aware? Would having this information change your purchasing habits and/or make you more likely to use a site that showed this information?

Read the thread that motivated this line of thought in its entirety: A380 – white elephant or the future?

Image by Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures. CC BY-ND 2.0.


  1. Take a look at RouteHappy. It’s pretty good, ranking not only on time/price, but also on seat confort, IFE, power and Wi-Fi, as well as airplane model.

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