Airline Passengers Are Revolting
Airlines are squeezing ever-larger passengers into ever-smaller spaces. Naturally, the passengers are taking it out on the other passengers.
NYT (“On Jammed Jets, Sardines Turn on One Another“):
Flying coach can be a bruising experience these days.
Rory Rowland said he was rudely rebuffed after he asked the person in front of him not to recline his seat on a red-eye flight. When he later got up to use the bathroom, and the other passenger had fallen asleep, “I hip-checked his seat like you wouldn’t believe,” Mr. Rowland, a speaker and consultant, said, then feigned innocence when the enraged passenger complained to a flight attendant.
With air travelers increasingly feeling like packed sardines, flying has become a contact sport, nowhere more than over the reclined seat.
Now, it is only getting worse, as airlines re-examine every millimeter of the cabin.
Over the last two decades, the space between seats — hardly roomy before — has fallen about 10 percent, from 34 inches to somewhere between 30 and 32 inches. Today, some airlines are pushing it even further, leaving only a knee-crunching 28 inches.
To gain a little more space, airlines are turning to a new generation of seats that use lighter materials and less padding, moving the magazine pocket above the tray table and even reducing or eliminating the recline in seats. Some are even reducing the number of galleys and bathrooms.
Southwest, the nation’s largest domestic carrier, is installing seats with less cushion and thinner materials — a svelte model known in the business as “slim-line.” It also is reducing the maximum recline to two inches from three. These new seats allow Southwest to add another row, or six seats, to every flight — and add $200 million a year in newfound revenue.
“In today’s environment, the goal is to fit as many seats in the cabin as possible,” said Tom Plant, the general manager for seating products at B/E Aerospace, one of the top airplane seat makers. “We would all like more space on an aircraft, but we all like a competitive ticket price.”
With so little space to haggle over, passengers have developed their own techniques for handling the crowded conditions.
“They jam their knee into the back of your seat as hard as they can, and they’ll do it repeatedly to see if they can get a reaction,” said Mick Brekke, a businessman who flies for work a few times a month. “That’s happened to me more than once, and that usually settles down after they realize I’m not going to put it back up.”
The passengers Mr. Brekke has encountered are not even the most extreme: Some have taken to using seat-jamming devices, known as knee guards, that prevent a seat in front from reclining. Airlines ban them, but they work, users say.
Smaller seats are not the only reason passengers feel more constricted these days. Travelers are also getting bigger. In the last four decades, the average American gained a little more than 20 pounds and his or her waist expanded about 2.5 inches, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The dimensions of airplanes, however, have not changed and neither has the average width of a coach seat, which is 17 to 18 inches.
As much as we like to complain about the airlines here, Andrew Exum is right: “Passengers have only themselves to blame for this. They’ve been clear their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd priority is low fares.” Flying coach is amazingly cheap but, alas, it’s the modern equivalent of riding a Greyhound.
For those of us who are taller than average, the lack of leg room is even more problematic. And, no, it doesn’t help when the passenger in the row ahead of us reclines into our knees. Then again, they have every right to that little bit of extra room if the airline gives them that option. Increasingly, they don’t, with seats either coming “pre-reclined” at a set angle or without any ability to recline.
Additionally, airlines are creating new classes of travel, selling ordinary coach seats with slightly more room—including the once-free-for-all bulkhead row seats—at a premium price. It’s a worthwhile option for taller passengers with some financial means, although certainly a burden on those of us traveling with children and therefore in need of multiple seats.