Safety is the most paramount factor in aviation. For this reason, every detail on an airplane has to be held accountable for its efficiency, effectiveness, and safety not minding how minute or irrelevant this detail may seem. One such detail is the question surrounding airplane aisles and how their width responds to safety issues. This, therefore, begs the question: how wide are airplane aisles?
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Seat and Aisle Regulations, the width of airplane aisles ranges from 12 to 20 inches depending on the size of the plane and its passenger seating capacity.
However, it is important to stress that the width of an airplane’s aisle depends solely on the size of the airplane and its passenger seating capacity, not on classifications such as the purpose and type of airplane. Therefore, the aisles of two airplanes will only share the same width if they can accommodate the same number of passengers, irrespective of the purpose they serve.
In this article, we will not just look into the aisle width of various planes but will also touch on the aisle width in first-class/business class and safety measures surrounding airplane aisles. As a bonus, we’ll then consider why airplane aisles keep shrinking in size.
Aisle Width of Various Airplanes
As already stated above, the aisle width of various airplanes depends on the passenger capacity of these airplanes. The FAA Seat and Aisle Regulation divides airplanes based on their passenger capacity into three categories:
- 10/less seat passenger airplanes;
- 11-19 seat passenger airplanes and;
- 20/more seat passenger airplanes.
10/Less Seat Passenger Airplanes
For airplanes with 10 or fewer seats, the FAA specifies that their minimum aisle width must be 12 inches from the floor to a height of 25 inches and 15 inches above a 25-inch height.
Airplanes under this category are mostly light aircraft and they include:
- Beechcraft Bonanza Lockheed
- 12 Electra Jnr
- Piper PA-32
- Cessna 421 Golden Eagle
- Cessna T-50.
11-19 Seat Passenger Airplanes
The minimum aisle width of planes that fall within this category is 12 inches from the floor to a height of 25 inches and 20 inches above a 25-inch height. Although the airplanes under this category are also mostly light aircraft, they tend to be multi-engined. Examples of airplanes under this category are:
- Beechcraft King Air
- Antonov An-28
- de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter
- Harbin Y-12
- Short SC.7 Skyvan
- GAF Nomad.
20/More Seat Passenger Airplanes
Big airliners like the ‘Boeings’ and ‘Airbuses’ are found within this category of airplanes. The FAA Seat and Aisle Regulations require that the aisle width of these airplanes must be 15 inches from the floor to a height of 25 inches and 20 inches above a 25-inch height.
Therefore, it is safe to say that the aisle width of the last Boeing or Airbus flight that you took was between 15 to 20 or more inches. Examples of airplanes that fall under this category are:
- Antonov An-140
- Airbus A320
- Airbus A330
- Airbus A380
- Boeing 707
- Boeing 717
- Boeing 747
- All Boeing airliners
- VFW-Fokker 614
Aisle Width in First Class/Business Class
The practical difference between an economy class and a first-class/business class is the extra space and comfort that comes with the first class/business class. With more money comes great amenities, comfort, and space.
Although there are no strict standards for the aisle width of the first-class/business class of airliners, passengers who opt for these classes enjoy premium spaces of over 20 inches between seats with each seat having direct access to an aisle unlike in the economy class.
In general, there are few differences between the aisle width in first class and in business class. Some airlines have even done away with the first class in favor of the business class in order to maximize space and eliminate the cost of maintaining the two classes separately, since they offer virtually the same if not the same services to the passenger. So if it is more personal space that you want, be sure to consider a business class on your next flight trip.
Safety and Aisle Width (90-second Rule)
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) came up with aisle width regulations to address safety issues and as a result, make flying safer. To this end, the FAA designed a way to verify the safety of aisle width. This system of safety verification is known as the 90-second rule. Although the 90-second rule is a general concept in dealing with stressful situations, it is used in aviation as a safety check for aisle width and general cabin space.
According to the 90-second rule, airliners must effectively prove that they can evacuate all passengers from their airplane in under 90 seconds. This measure ensures that in the case of an emergency, passengers do not bump into each other or get stuck when trying to evacuate the plane.
Why Aren’t Airplane Aisles Wider?
You may ask; if safety is the paramount factor in aviation, why can’t airliners just widen the width of aisles in airplanes and allow passengers more comfort? The simple answer to this question is that airliners want to maximize cabin space so that more passengers can fit into an airliner.
In order to gain more revenue from ticket sales, airlines seek various ways to fit in more passengers into their airliners. As a result, the sizes of airplane seats and aisle widths have diminished with time. This measure may not be desirable to the passenger, but the airlines argue that it keeps them profitable enough to be operational.
The aisle width of airplanes varies depending on the size and passenger capacity of the airplanes. However, the regulating factor that ensures enough spacing between the seats in an airplane is the 90-second rule enforced by the FAA in order to maintain safety standards in the aviation industry.
The measure taken by this safety standard further ensures that airliners do not sacrifice safety for profit. In other words, you can rest assured that your safety is guaranteed by the FAA despite the shrinking width of airplane aisles.