Narrow Body Aircraft vs Wide Body Aircraft

Aircraft · 4 min read · Dec 01, 2022
narrow body aircraft

If you frequently fly around the world or read aviation articles, you have no doubt come across the term narrow body aircraft. The term may make one wonder what qualifies an aircraft to be a narrow body and how narrow body planes differ from other types of aircraft. That is why we are going to shed light on what a narrow body aircraft is and all you need to know about such planes.

What is a narrow body aircraft?

Narrow body planes are small aircraft types used widely in aviation for short haul flights. Narrow body aircraft have a single aisle. Therefore, narrow body planes are also called single aisle planes or single aisle aircraft.

Features of a single aisle aircraft

As already established, a narrow body aircraft has only one aisle. However, the sizes vary widely. A single aisle aircraft can carry any number of passengers ranging from as low as four to as high as three hundred.

Due to the narrow body, such aircraft typically have between two and six passenger seats per row, split per aisle, depending on their size. The smaller ones have fewer seats per row, while the bigger ones have more seats per row.

Narrow body aircraft Airbus Neo in flight.

The other feature of narrow body planes is the classes. Wide body aircraft usually have one cabin, the economy class. However, some wide body aircraft have an additional cabin, the premium economy class. In some cases, an extra business class cabin exists.

The wide body allows for such classing. However, the narrow body aircraft limit such diverse classing. Therefore, most only have the economy class. In case of an additional class, say the premium economy class or business class, the aircraft will typically have the same number of seats per row but with no middle seat to offer passengers extra room.

Manufacturers

Almost all aircraft manufacturers have narrow body aircraft in the market. Some of the most popular narrow body aircraft manufacturers are Boeing, de Havilland, Airbus, McDonnell Douglas, and Tupolev.  

A narrow body aircraft being prepared and boarded for a flight.

The most popular single aisle aircraft, according to orders made, is the Boeing 737. Over a total of 15,000 Boeing 737s have been ordered, which is higher than orders made for other narrow body aircraft. The most famous variation of the Boeing 737 is the Boeing 737 Max, which has been grounded for over two years over the pandemic.

Use of narrow body aircraft

Many people assume that narrow body aircraft are only fit for short haul flights. Although most airlines operate narrow body aircraft on short haul flights, they can only be used for long haul or medium haul flights. An example of an airline that does this is Copa Airlines.

The airline uses a Boeing 737 on an average of six-hour long flights from Panama City to various destinations within South America. Another example is Norwegian Airline which uses narrow body aircraft for the UK-American route. Other airlines use narrow body aircraft mainly for short haul routes.

An example is Aer Lingus which has a large fleet of narrow body aircraft.  They mainly operate their aircraft on short-haul European flights and some medium-haul North American routes.

EasyJet, WizzAir and Ryanair narrow-body aircraft stationed at an airport.

Maximum capacity

Airlines like to carry a maximum number of passengers to make flights profitable. The narrow body aircraft with the biggest capacity at the moment is the Boeing 757-300. The Boeing 757-300 has enough seat capacity to accommodate 295 passengers in one flight.

The aircraft is admired for its space and capacity for a narrow body aircraft. Although there are other Boeing 757s in the market, Boeing stopped producing the 757-300 in 2004

Comparison with wide body aircraft

Due to the name, someone may assume that a wide body aircraft is a plane with a wide body and can accommodate more passengers than a narrow body aircraft. However, that is not the technical definition.

Technically, a wide body aircraft is an aircraft with two or more seat aisles. Some wide body aircraft have large seat capacities, carrying up to 600 or more passenger seats. However, others have as low as 250 passenger seats. Regardless of the number of passenger seats, they are configured in multiple seat aisles.

Typically, wide body aircraft are used for long haul flights because of their range. To accommodate more aisles of seats, the wide body aircraft have a larger fuselage. The large fuselage, in turn, allows the wide body aircraft to support more powerful engines that can produce more power.

Wide body aircraft usually have larger wings too allowing to pack more fuel needed to reach more distant destinations. For example, a wide body Airbus A350-900 can cross about 14,000 miles, whereas a narrow body Boeing 757-200 can only travel for about 5000 miles.

An aircraft taking off with a moon in the background.

Due to their sizes, most wide body aircraft are more spacious than their narrow body counterparts. Therefore, a row in a wide body aircraft is likely to have more space than a seat row in the narrow body aircraft. The same case applies to every individual seat. However, this is not always the case, as some airlines may try fitting more seats, limiting the space.       

For flight crew, however, there is not much difference between narrow body and wide body aircraft. Generally, flight crew take care of approximately 50 passengers, whether in a narrow body or a wide body aircraft.

Therefore, there is no difference in the service the crew will offer. However, a wide body aircraft implies that the crew will offer service for longer periods of time because the flights typically take longer time. However, the crew will still take breaks in between service, making the work manageable.

Final thoughts

Narrowbody aircraft are irreplacable for popular short-haul routes in Europe and the U.S. Nowadays there is a great variety of narrowbody aircraft available in the market and they all offer different benefits for various airline routes.

Now that you have read a quick explanation between a widebody aircraft and a narrowbody aircraft, what is your favourite narrow-body airplane?

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Jaap Brian profile picture
Jaap Brian
A highly passionate aviator, with a solid background in aeronautical engineering. His journey to writing about aviation topics is founded on sharing insights into aviation safety and technical aircraft performance – a journey that is 6+ years and counting.

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