Don't miss

The Incredibly
Shrinking Seat

By on December 8, 2017

By Bob & Sandy Nesoff

There was a time back in the murky past when flying anywhere was a treat and fun. American Airlines Flagship DC-6 had comfortable seats, there was a lounge with easy chairs and tables where passengers could congregate, play cards, or have a drink.

That was the past.

Today’s reality is so far from that comfort that many people might think that was science fiction.

Airline seats shrink as the size of the American derriere grows. People on average are taller today than they were back in the 1940s when the DC-6 ruled the skies with luxury. Taller people find that the pitch-the distance between the seat in front of you and your knees has come down to Mickey Rooney size and a basketball player would find knees jammed into his throat.

Have a checked bag more than 50 pounds? Pay a hefty fee. Want to check a second bag? Pay a heftier fee. Want a seat with some extra leg room? That’s cost you about a month’s mortgage. Don’t even consider Business or First Class unless you are flying on an unlimited expense account.

Where meals where once served, a miniature snack bag is tossed at you as the cabin crew rushes from front to back. Want anything else? OK, that’ll cost as well. But bring a credit card because cash is verboten on most aircraft.

There are some airlines that push the boundaries even further. Spirit Airlines, for example, charges for carry-on. They claim that these charges permit them to offer lower fares, but in the long run there is little savings when you pay extra for everything but the air you breathe.

Ooops. Shouldn’t say that too loud or some airlines may begin charging for that too by providing a breathing tube.

Things could be a bit on the upswing when a Federal Court judge recently ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to review seat size on American flagged carriers.

Judge Patricia Ann Millett called on the FAA, saying the agency has not done its job in setting minimum standards for both the size of economy (sometimes called “Cattle Class”) seats and the pitch.

A consumer advocacy group, Flyers Rights, fed up with the conditions on passenger aircraft, went to court and challenged the denial by the FAA of its petition asking the government to study if the smaller seats were actually creating a safety hazard.

The group contended that seats are now designed for people no taller than 5’10” and in pretty good physical shape.

Most Americans, they noted, no longer fit that narrow category. They also pointed out that seat width has declined from 18.5 inches at the beginning of the century to 17” only a few years later.

Unfortunately the FAA can regulate seats only for safety and not comfort. The government adopted new standards after several crashes where passengers had difficulty evacuating planes because of the tight squeeze. The FAA does dictate minimum width for aisles, but the tush is not their concern.

The abovementioned Spirit Airlines, maligned by some travelers, has a seat width down to 16.5 inches although the previous industry standard was 17 inches.

But Spirit is not alone. Reports are that American and United considered cutting the pitch to less than 30 inches in economy. Mickey Rooney, where are you? They may have rethought that after consumer anger rose to the surface.

On a recent flight from Newark (NJ) to Beijing we opted to pay for Economy Plus to have the extra room. The leg room as there, but in three across seating the poor person sitting in the middle was crushed.

Some passengers traveling as a couple will reserve aisle and window seats and hope that no one comes in between them. That works…sometimes.

Granted, the airlines had faced declining bottom lines with inflation and the sharp rise in fuel prices. Fuel costs have dropped dramatically and the economy is on the rise but the extra fees charged passengers have remained.

Why? Simply because they have brought literally billions in extra profit to the carriers and they are not likely to give that up. Someone commented that those fees are like sex. Once you’ve tried it, you don’t want to give it up.

All of that being said, flying is still the best way to travel beyond a trip to the local mall. It’s safer than driving and gives you more time at your destination. But a letter to the CEO of your favorite airlines complaining about squeezing that tush into a seat might just help.