Let's add up the numbers:
New forward staircase - 20 seats
Combined crew rest - 3 seats
New rear stairs - 14 seats
These three, applicable to any airline, would add 37 seats alone.
For airlines with herringbone bizclass seats:
Remove sidewall stowage - 10 seats
which brings us to 47 seats. That's without compromising pax comfort.
9 abreast premium economy - 11 seats
With negligible compromise in comfort (9-abreast PY on an A380 is more than good enough), you are now at 58 seats, made up of a combination of J, PY and Y, so not all low-yielding. We haven't even talked about 11-abreast, which IMO would be a mistake that would kill the "A380 effect", and hence why EK rightfully doesn't want it.
That's +58 seats, a good part of it retrofittable during the next cabin upgrade or C-check which is coming up for many aircraft, without a large investment or risk on the part of Airbus, and with no comfort compromise on the side of the airlines.
IMO these cabin mods are mainly aimed at (keeping) existing customers, and convincing hesitant ones who have deferred deliveries (QF...) to stay on board, as well as providing an attractive upgrade when the replacement wave kicks in (already happening for SQ). Any new orders that Airbus may get from this (BA finally giving in? ANA topping up?) will be more than icing on the cake, but are not the driving factor.
The current seating optimizations are just a cheaper alternative to bridge the gap to the NEO for Airbus than further reducing pricing at an already not very economic production rate. If enough airlines bite it makes the in between years a bit more affordable. Airbus can afford to see how the next two years go to see who can't resist, after that it becomes more expensive
Fully agree. Any NEO needs a 15% efficiency improvement and a 10-year production run to justify the investment, and no engine in development today can deliver that over the (still very good) T900. At most 8-10%. Post-2020-2022, it will be a different story. So, the gap until 2022 must be bridged somehow.
They took the right decision to wait for a larger leap in engine efficiency and to see some further aviation growth for the NEO. The plus is just a stop gap solution.