Is it time for minimum airline seat standards?

It’s not your imagination. Airline seats are shrinking.

A wave of air-rage incidents has exposed the problem like a threadbare economy class seat on an aging puddle jumper. A Delta Air Lines flight from New York to Palm Beach, Fla., recently made an unscheduled landing in Jacksonville after two passengers scuffled over a reclining seat. It followed two similar altercations a few days earlier, both of which also involved seat-related altercations.

“Airlines are aggressively reducing seat and passenger space to squeeze more revenue out passengers, despite health and safety being threatened,” says Paul Hudson, president of, an advocacy group for air travelers.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Syndicated columnists and TV comedians have summarized the problem succinctly, and often amusingly. But instead of finding a fix, they’ve been obsessed with assigning blame to passengers, airlines or both.

Actually, the solution involves none of the above. Instead, it’s as simple as developing minimum seat comfort standards and enacting common-sense government regulation to enforce them.

“Airplanes are configured for rage,” says Margaret King, director for The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis, a consumer-research organization based in Philadelphia. “Designers just didn’t do the math on the personal space as part of the human factors involved on board.”

So let’s run a few numbers. There are two that could stop the madness: 34 and 18.

The average “pitch” — an industry term for the amount of space between airline seats — is somewhere between 30 and 31 inches in economy class today. Returning seat pitch to its pre-deregulation 34 inches would help avoid future seat-rage incidents, say experts. Even airlines quietly acknowledge it’s a humane amount of legroom when they refer to premium coach seats with 34 inches of pitch as “comfort” class. Likewise, 18 inches across is about the right size for a seat cushion in coach. Anything less, and you’re jostling for armrest space or bumping your knees up against the seat in front of you.

If the seat designers didn’t do their math, then neither did the airlines. Over the years, many carriers have quietly moved the seats closer together, reducing both seat pitch and cushion sizes, and insisting that their customers demanded it. How so? They claim that we only wanted cheap fares and were willing to sacrifice space for it. But they didn’t have any compelling numbers to back that assertion.

Truth is, as a consumer advocate, I’ve never received a request from a passenger to reduce the amount of space on a plane. No one ever asked to be squished into a seat in exchange for a deal. Airlines just assumed their customers didn’t care about comfort — something we now know isn’t entirely accurate.

Time is running out to find an acceptable solution. As the events of this summer suggest, passengers’ patience is limited.

“If you want to start a revolution, take away enough basic amenities from the population to anger them to a point of outrage,” says Ramani Durvasula, a Los Angeles-based psychologist and author. “The airlines kept taking and taking, and since most of us can’t get across the country or the ocean any other way, we let them.”

That must end. One fix is for a pro-consumer U.S. Senator to slip a sentence in the next FAA Reauthorization Bill, asking the Transportation Department to establish minimum seat space standards. is also pushing for legislation that would require the FAA to set seat standards.

By the way, that doesn’t necessarily mean airlines will be forced to give up valuable space and the potential revenue that comes with it. Several seat design concepts take into account available room and offer ample comfort to air travelers. Fitting more passengers on a plane and the right to a comfortable flight “don’t need to be opposing ideas,” says Joshua Zinder, a Princeton, N.J.-based architect who specializes in sustainable design.

“A well-designed seat should allow airlines to increase passenger counts and passenger comfort and as a result allow them to get the most for their fuel and expenses,” he says.

I never thought I’d use the words “win-win” in the context of airlines and passengers. But there’s a first time for everything.

Is it time for minimum airline seat standards?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

How to stay comfortable on your next flight

Take a deep breath. Space may be tight, but stress can be the spark that ignites a confrontation, say experts. “If you already have anger issues, the smallest inconvenience can cause you to act irrationally, explosively, and with a childish and entitled sense of self,” says Steve Albrecht, a San Diego psychologist. Bring a good book, load a movie to your phone or sleep if you can.

Ask before you lean. The space on a plane is shared, and that includes the room between you and the passenger behind you. If you must recline on an overnight flight, ask the person behind you if it’s OK. Do not jam your seat all the way back without a warning. You could injure a passenger or damage their property, like a laptop computer.

Resolve, don’t retaliate. If the passenger in front of you reclines thoughtlessly or the one next to you pushes your elbows off the arm rest, politely mention the fact that the interior of an aircraft is a communal space and ask that person to share. If that doesn’t work, ask a flight attendant to reseat you or to mediate your dispute. Throwing a drink in that person’s face will probably get you kicked off the flight. Remember, until minimum seat space standards are changed, we’re all in this together.

153 thoughts on “Is it time for minimum airline seat standards?

  1. If you want comfort buy it, you can have a bigger seat and more pitch, heck, you can lay down flat if you want to, you just have to pay for it.
    Several airlines have tried to provide premium seating but then they suffer when travelers choose those cheaper airfares. When you put in bigger seats with more pitch you have fewer seats on a plane which means lower revenue for that flight, and to make that up, people need to pay more, and they just won’t.

    What about personal responsibility? I am a human being, with a highly developed and evolved brain. I am not 4 years old, I am capable of regulating my emotions and my feelings. No one “makes” me feel anything, no one makes me “act” anyway, I don’t choose too. I am not a slave to my emotions or instincts.
    If someone is hogging your side of the armrest, and your angry or upset, because you paid for half of that armrest, snap out of it, you’re feeling that way because you’re choosing to feel that way, you could just as easily choose NOT to feel that way.

    1. Psy, I remember way back in my undergrad Intro to Psychology class, the classic experiment where when too many rats were put in a cage, they started attacking one another. Perhaps this is what Chris is alluding to, as the airlines seem to be repeating this experiment thousands of times a day, and we PAX are merely ‘lab rats’. Your rationalization sounds nice in theory, but perhaps you are mistaken that we are all rational? Personally, I believe that we are emotionally driven creatures pretending to be rational. Are TV commercials appealing to our rationality? I don’t think so…

        1. Psy, Many different mammalian species have similar neural anatomy. We may have larger & more evolved brain structures, but I think you’re giving your hypothetical seatmate, Bubba, too much credit to believe that he is purely driven by logic. He bought the cheapest seat in the plane, but maybe you booked at the last minute & took the only available seat next to his, at 5 times the price, courtesy of the airlines’ ‘yield-management’ algorithm?

          1. I’m but in the unusual position of having to agree with PsyGuy. Stereotyping notwithstanding, humans exercise choices. We don’t have to give in to air rage, road rage, or any other kind of rage. When we do, we have no one to blame but ourselves and our poor judgment and choices.

        2. Unfortunately, we’re becoming elephantine in size more than rat in size. That’s the wonder to me – the bigger our US population becomes, the smaller the seats. And, not just heavier but we’re getting taller as well. Makes no sense to me.

      1. It’s a good thing I read Psy’s post before I wrote. I remember studying the same rats-in-a-cage experiment in college (60+ years ago) but as I remember it, the number of rats stayed the same and gradually the size of the cage was reduced. As it did, the rats began to exhibit aggressive behavior.

        Add to the reduction in space hunger (no more free meals), and salty, pretzel-induced, thirst and the potential for aggressive behavior is exacerbated.

      2. If you want to watch a funny, and thoughtful film, check out from netflix: ”
        Mon oncle d’Amérique” with a similar theme (humans as lab rats.)

    2. Perhaps .But you also have to consider that it takes a certain amount of fuel to fly every pound from point A to point B. So, if you can cram 6 extra people on a plane, that means you’re flying about 1500 additional pounds, because you are also flying the weight of the added seats from point A to point B.. On a 737, this increases fuel consumption by about 0.75% I have to wonder how the added cost of the extra fuel compares with the added revenue.

        1. some airlines do already. Others do it as a promo. All airlines would, if they could find an easy & not time consuming way to d it.
          Let’s face it, passengers are same as freight.

    3. So, if we can’t afford to buy the comfort, we have to suffer. If we don’t pay the price, we don’t deserve to have a couple of extra inches and should gladly accept what is given to us, regardless of comfort and the need for just a little personal space. Money rules! 😉 And if we don’t give them enough, to heck with us! (sarcasm, if you can’t tell)

      It’s easy to talk logically about emotions when not actually in the stressful situation. Things happen… I’m sure most people don’t go to the airport with the idea that they’re going to cause a scene and get kicked off their flight. But not everyone is logical, calm, cool and collect. If they were, there probably wouldn’t be as many issues as there are in the world today….

      1. Who isn’t in a rage after standing in line waiting for what feels like ages to be nudo-scoped or molested in a pat down?

        1. So, you honestly think people deserve to be treated poorly, shoved tight as possible into the smallest of spaces, because they don’t fork over enough money? Hope you aren’t running an airline….

          1. I think its a private transaction between the travel provider and the traveler. Its not a matter about deserving, its a matter of what you can or choose to pay for.

            People deserve good food, adequate housing, sufficient clothes, heat, etc. Those are things that we pay our taxes to ensure that everyone has.

            Other things are a matter of either pay the price or make alternative arrangements. There are many things that I want that I cannot afford. I must do without.

          2. You pay for a seat to get you from point A to point B. Most don’t consider how little space they’ll get until they actually get on the plane. It’s not like you get to try out the seat before you buy the ticket.

            Perhaps I think it is a lack of respect for the customer in that they feel they can shove you in a tight spot all because you can’t pay for first place. The individual consumer has little weight and not much option with this private transaction. All the power lies with the airlines. Sometimes there are alternatives, but not always. Try going to a family member’s funeral in Europe via train. Or even boat. Just because I can’t afford a first class ticket doesn’t mean I should be handled like cargo in the freight hold.

          3. You are supposing that the average traveler only travel once and never more. It may be true for the first flight, but not for the following ones.

          4. You can always ask, you can check online, etc.

            But my issue is that the airline offer multiple pricing points. As many as 4 options. You don’t have to buy the cheapest ticket or fly the cheapest airline.

          5. No, I don’t. But I don’t think we are also entitled to something just because we want it.

            You have the possibility to pay more for a better seat. It is your choice not to pay. Spirit proves people in general don’t want to use this choice.

    4. PsyGuy, you keep harping on “if you want it, buy it.” According to you, everyone has the money to purchase First Class or non-refundable tickets, buy travel insurance, pay for all the other extras – oh, and have your superior knowledge about how to book travel.
      I’m so glad that YOU have so much discretionary money to spend on travel; unfortunately, not everyone does.
      Are you aware that some people can only travel once a year, or even once every other year, due to financial constraints? Why do you seem to constantly stomp on those people as being ignorant and unworthy of being treated as human beings?
      I have very long legs; if anyone reclines in front of me, it HURTS! But I can’t afford a first class or business class ticket. So I’m not taking “personal responsibility”? Excuse me?

      1. Are you aware that several people will never fly? Probably more than half of the world population.

        And if you have finance constraints, sorry. You already gave the answer – if you cannot afford to travel yearly, travel every other year. If you cannot travel every other year, travel every two years.

        1. i never said that anyone should “give” me anything. but psy guy seems to think that everyone who ever does fly must pay first class or fully refundable tickets, must get travel insurance, must know everything there is to know about travel, or they’re just whining complainers. and that’s not true.
          i rarely fly any more and i’m not asking for anything for free. but i used to travel quite a lot – it’s just gotten to be too much aggravation to do so any more.
          (and i guess i’m getting a bit tired of PsyGuy’s constant negativity towards anyone who doesn’t do things “his way”.)

          1. I rarely ever agree with Psyguy so far be it from me to defend him let alone put words in his mouth. You’ll have to take up any issues with him directly.

            My only point is that people inability to afford a non-necessity should not be part of the conversation. One of the great things about a free market is that if goods and services are overpriced, it gives incentives for some smart person to make something better and cheaper.

    5. There comes a point where it’s just not safe. Either because the psychology of the passengers have been affected too much or the simple fact that with so many seats so tight together and passengers getting ‘larger,’ you just can’t exit the plane quickly enough in an emergency.

      I think just the ‘threat’ of government mandating EC size seats and pitch will be enough to cause the airlines to re-think their abusive practices. And yeah, with the consolidation of the airline industry, it’s now an oligopoly, not a competitive market place. Really, are you going to say, “Hey, I’ll just fly Northwest instead? Continental? US Air? America West?

      We’ve gone from 10 major airlines to four. Does anybody really think that ‘synergy’ and ‘efficiency’ where the only reasons behind consolidation? How about, “reduce competitiveness and drive up prices while driving down service, and eliminate the options.”

    1. 34-36in to be exact. I’ve had seen the same in first class. So yes its flawed people are just self entitled which is the problem. Purely a psychological issue

      1. Some of the people in premium seats can be a PITA. You would think they never learned “please” and “thank you”

  2. Hmmm.

    Do I want more seat width? Of course. I’d also like a gold plated toilet but it’s not in the cards. 🙂

    The article absolutely details why passengers would love more seat room. But what it fails to address is what is the justification for legislative action instead of a market based solution. There are many things in life that I want. Perhaps I want some advertising space on this site. But I think the costs are too high. I can only afford 1/16 of the screen but less than 1/8 and some of my potential clients won’t notice it. We should pass a law to get it for me.

    I’m all for the government regulating health and safety. That’s a good thing. But I don’t see why we should legislate comfort. That’s a personal choice. You pay more you get more comfort, you pay less you get less comfort. It’s a personal decision of which is more important to you, money or comfort and each person should make that decision for themselves.

    At the end of the day, this is the choice. Do we respect people enough to let them manage their own affairs regarding comfort and their finances, or so we act as big brother and remove those choices.

    They claim that we only wanted cheap fares and were willing to sacrifice space for it. But they didn’t have any compelling numbers to back that assertion.

    Do we really believe that the numbers don’t support the assertion? A freshman economics course would be sufficient to disabuse us of that notion. If people were wiling to pay more for a better coach experience then the prices would go up as would the quality. But since we don’t have time we can apply some recent history. How many airlines have tried that experiment and failed miserably. (AA’s more room throughout coach, Midwest airlines, etc.)

    1. Accepting as true that comfort ought to be regulated solely by the marketplace, but health and safety are legitimate bases for government regulation, is seat width and pitch a matter of comfort or health and safety? The article reports Ms. King as charging that “[a]irplanes are configured for rage.” If less than adequate seat width and pitch can foreseeably result in “rage” from some passengers, and which endagers the health and safety of passengers (and crew), then is it not a legitimate exercise of government power to regulate minimum seat width and pitch?

      1. No. I would say that’s too tenuous a connection. I reject the premise, the implication being the the raging person had no self-control, that they were forced into these actions.

        To determine whether this is reasonable or specious logic, I would suggest that we try to analogize it to other areas of society and law. I cannot think of any situation where we feel comfortable regulating comfort and especially because some people with anger management issues cannot exercise self-control when they’re uncomfortable.

          1. Boeing has suggested similar minimal seat sizing.

            However, it is the airlines that decide what size seats and what spacing of those seats they use and often ignore the suggested minimums from the plane manufacturers.

            There was a recent spate of 757 seats breaking loose from the mounting brackets in flight (don’t remember the airline) that started soon after the seats were moved closer together to add additional rows. While not admitted to by the airline, looking at it from an engineering viewpoint, seemed like metal fatigue brought on by overloading the mountings by having the seats too close together.

          2. The real reason? Airbus planes have no use for 17″ seats – airlines cannot squeeze one more seat in a row with 17″ seats in an Airbus, therefore Airbus cliam it is because its concern with passengers comfort…

            To be able to fit 9-seats a row , its A330/340 must use 16.7″ seats…

            www dot airbus dot com / aircraftfamilies / passengeraircraft / a330family / a330-200 / cabin-layout/

            B777 cabin is 6.20m (20’4″) wide, while A350 cabins is 5.96m (19’7″) wide. In order to fit 10-seats in a A350, these seats must be very narrow, about 16.2″…

            In fact, Airbus shows this possibility at its website, but “forgot” to add the figures, like it did at the A330 description:

            www dot airbus dot com / aircraftfamilies / passengeraircraft / a350xwbfamily / a350-900 / cabin-layout/

        1. When one person taunts another to the point of having that other person becoming enraged, are the subsequent actions of that other person in response always entirely volitional? Is self-control the only acceptable response of a reasonable person? Or can a reasonable person have a breaking point?

          1. Assuming we are talking adults, I would tell the taunter to grow up and the tauntee to man up.

            As you remember from criminal law, the law rarely recognized “mere words” as a justification or even partial excuse to engage in a physical alteration.

      1. Passenger safety is a safety issue. Passenger health is a health issue. You can have both without being comfortable

          1. I’m saying that we shouldn’t conflate unrelated issues.

            And personally, no <18" width isn't ok with me so I pay for additional width. But far be it from me to make the choice for someone else.

    2. I’m afraid we’ll probably be adding jetBlue to your list. The investors are not happy with the airline’s performance and calling for a change. New CEO starts in February.

      More seats (reduced legroom), no “free” 1st checked bags and elimination of other amenities are all going to be reviewed.

  3. “They claim that we only wanted cheap fares and were willing to sacrifice space for it. But they didn’t have any compelling numbers to back that assertion.” and “Airlines just assumed their customers didn’t care about comfort — something we now know isn’t entirely accurate.”

    American Airlines could find some numbers for you.
    Maybe Frontier could find some old records from Midwest Airlines.
    You might be able to get some archival documents from the bankruptcy court for Midway Airlines
    I’m sure there’s other airlines that thought offering a premium experience to everybody was a profitable venture and were proven wrong.

    Even today, the plus-sized economy classes are more filled with frequent flyers receiving upgrades (or just regular coach passengers getting assigned a seat) than they are with customers that want to pay for the additional space.

    Airlines are not run by total morons. They know how many rows they’d have to sacrifice to improve pitch, and they know exactly how passengers react to increased fares (Hint: they book elsewhere.) They also, via their “comfort economy” classes, know how many passengers are willing to actually pay for the added seat space. (Hint: It’s not very many.) The fact that openly customer-hostile operations like Spirit, Allegiant, and Ryan Air even EXIST should tell you that quite a lot of people would NEVER pay for additional leg room.

    “Several seat design concepts take into account available room and offer ample comfort to air travelers.”

    Which are currently being deployed by I think nearly every airline when the cabins are coming up for a fleet-wide re-design.

    If the FAA mandates minimum seat comfort standards, fares WILL go up to accommodate for the reduced capacity. We will ALL pay for it; with load factors running as high as they are, every airline in the sky will charge more money for fares.

    I’m 6’2″ tall, and for my height, have abnormally long legs (36″ inseam; I cannot buy pants off the rack anywhere) Why is it I never have knee problems in my coach seat?

    1. Part of the reason at least some of those airlines filed for bankruptcy due to unprofitability is maybe they didn’t fly to enough places that lots of people go to.

      Also, it seems to me that many times, the “comfort economy” class is sold out or not offered on flights I want to take, or wants to charge another 50% of the plane ticket, which is quite a mark up.

      How does Southwest stay so profitable with better seat pitch, 2 free luggage, open seating (where I can always sit with my family) and usually rates lower than or at most equal too other airlines?

      1. I think the TAs will dispute that southwest has lower rates. But one reason for its increased profitability was that Southwest hedged fuel costs, another is that its labor costs tend to be lower.

        1. Hedgings have expired. The last ones that provided any major benefit to Southwest ended in 2008. They only helped Southwest during the time when fuel prices spiked (and it was a BIG help) but the price swings are not so large anymore and in the last reported yearly statement they paid 5% more on average than other US based airlines for fuel mainly due to unfavorable contracts at some of the recently added airports they fly to. Their labor costs are escalating with increases of nearly 21% since 2008 mainly because their staff is aging and more are in their top pay brackets. (Source: Forbes)

          Yet still Southwest remains one of the most profitable airlines.

          They are apparently doing something right that the other “legacy” airlines can’t do without all of the extra fees that Southwest still does not charge. We will have to see how adding international routes impact their profitability with the extended turn times for planes due to border and customs inspections requirements.

          1. True. And the result is that today, the most profitable US Airlines are, in order:

            Southwest tied with Delta

            Southwest no longer reins supreme

          2. And it saddens me that an airline with apparent absolute hatred for their passengers is the most profitable.

            This list shows clearly that we will never see better conditions in the passenger cabin because every airline executive is looking at this same list and thinking they must be more like Spirit.

          3. With the herd mentality of most corporate managers, I expect nothing less.

            But, no, if I was running an airline that would not be my course of action to become more like Spirit (which is probably why I am not running any type of major corporation :-)). I would examine the things that Spirit does to streamline back office procedures, financing, and similar functions to see if there were areas to improve.

          4. That’s commendable. The problem is, if after you’ve done your analysis, you come to the conclusion that Spirit’s business model will increase your company’s profitability. What then?

          5. Frontier reached that conclusion. There are a lot of empty seats on Frontier flights I have been on recently where they used to be oversold every time.

            For me if I would ever be in that position, I can’t even guess.

          6. As an executive with my company, I can tell you that when we take investor money, the point is that people invest in us expecting a good ROI. If we don’t provide that, they will invest elsewhere.

          7. Also, investors are not just fat cats. My father used to be on the board of a government retirement system. It was a small system with only about a billion dollars to invest. Their responsibility was to ensure that there was sufficient money to pay out the retirees pensions. The fiduciary duty was to maximize investment income within the permitted risk tolerance.

            They had to consider the money manager’s track record which basically meant what was the profitability of the investments that he or she recommended.

          8. This is exactly what jetBlue is about to face. We should have a discussion in a year to see how much at jetBlue has changed. Their investors are not happy with their slim (compared to the rest of the industry) profit margins and want changes.

          9. Perhaps there is an inverse economy of scale that relates to profits. Southwest currently operates 680 aircraft, that more than twice as many as Spirit, Allegiant and Alaska combined. Back when Southwest only had 200 or 300 planes, it was highly profitable. Profit margins have decreased as the airline has grown in size. Some of it has to do with Southwest now flying into higher cost airports that have greater than average weather problems and long takeoff delays (BOS,LGA, EWR ATL, MSP, etc.). It may also be that the people at Love Field no longer have as much control over what is happening in the far reaches of the network as they once had.

          10. They get to cherry pick their routes – legacy carriers cannot do that, so that impacts their bottom line

  4. Billions around the world use extremely crowded public transportation much more frequently than planes.Buses, trains where bodies are literally squeezed together. Somehow people can handle it without kiling each other. I have never heard about call for governements to regulate public transportation spaces.

    1. But in most cases you are free to exit the bus or train at frequent stops when you choose. This gives the passengers at least some feeling of control of the situation. On a plane most passengers feel they have no control.

      1. As an air traveler is free to choose another airline.

        And sorry, nobody will exit a bus or a train in the middle of the trip because it is crowded. Everybody wants to arrive at the job on time (bosses usually aren’t sympathetic with your commute problems) or to go home as fast as possible.

        BTW, do you really think this people feel they have some sort of control of the situation? It happens daily at this subway station at my home city:

        1. I didn’t say you would exit the train or bus and then catch a later one. I said you have the ability to do so, which to many people just knowing they can makes their claustrophobic feelings abate and reduces their desire to strike out. Some of the most reasonable and calmest people I have seen are on the London subways at rush hour.

          1. Sometimes you don’t. At that particular station, you are pushed against your will, and the cars are so packed, that isn’t uncommon to miss your stop.

      1. That’s true in the United States, as well as with many commuter railroads worldwide. But the overcrowded buses outside the United States and western Europe are mostly private enterprises.

    1. It is: “minimum exemplaria pro LXXX percent” (literally)

      Or: “obsecro Domine i appetunt aliquam more” (“Please, sir, I want some more”, from Oliver Twist)

      And likely this: “significat superior locus fares” (more space means higher fares)

        1. No one ever advocated for 0 pitch. Also the morons who use the word torture to to describe it should be waterboarded. Just like those idiots that say “Rape my wallet” which belittles those who have been raped

        2. meh. The first requirement for a meaningful poll is that the sample is a statistical representation, i.e. a sufficiently diverse group of people. 100 engineers will give poll results than 100 accountants. Neither result is useful.

    2. Lol. Here’s a suggestion. Next time someone feels the urge to believe majority opinion decides truth how about watching my favorite movie…Twelve Angry Men. It handily puts that lie to rest.

      But the Latin is

      argumentum ad populum (Latin for “appeal to the people”) is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition is true because many or most people believe it. In other words, the basic idea of the argument is: “If many believe so, it is so.”

    3. Good old English, from Lord Acton, 1877: “The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.”

    4. 80% favor minimum standards but 10% are willing to pay for larger seats. That’s why regulation is needed; all the airlines need to create more room in coach at the same time. If people consistently book the cheapest ticket, no airline would be the first to increase room and charge extra for a ticket because passengers would not buy those tickets.

      1. So let me see if I understand. Most people want larger seats but only 10% are willing to pay for them. Larger seats means fewer seats means the price must necessarily increase. How do we handle the increased cost which passengers don’t want to pay?

        You see the disconnect between what people say they want (80%) and what they are willing to pay for (10%)

        1. Exactly, Carver! Remember when American made their coach class more comfortable? Nobody cared. People complained about airline food so the airlines stopped serving food and everybody screamed. The really awful airlines that I read about could certainly keep their cattle-car mentality and discounted fares, but the decent airlines need to create some comfort for their passengers. People could choose to exchange comfort for price; they would not be allowed to complain about it. The rest of us can book seats that we can sit in for 4 hours and not go insane.

          1. So Spirit and Allegiant can continue their strategy and continue to make the best margins in the industry, but the legacy airlines cannot, and go back to what they were doing that took them to bankruptcy?

          2. The decent airlines would be happy to create come comfort as soon as more than 10% of passengers are willing to pay the extra costs instead of running headlong at Spirit airlines with its cheaper prices and crappy service.

            Alas, at the end of the day it appears that the market for better comfort and the increased price no longer exists. Sad really. But its really hard to create a sustainable volume business model that excludes 80-90% of your customers, i.e. the ones who don’t want to pay extra.

  5. Profit margins of Spirit and Allegiant are the best in the industry and all the legacies have gone through bankruptcies or disappeared. Simply put, that’s why we’re seeing what we see today.

    1. Money talks bs walks.
      people have spoken
      faa does regulate it already your correct
      Discount carrier’s with the least room have the highest profit margins and not due to ancillary fees
      These results are bogus compared to the actual flights and filled seats daily. The results have been in cheap has spoken but everyone wants a deal or something for nothing simply for patronizing a logo. It’s transportation, logistics and the product is going from a to b safely. You want more your going to have to pay. If I want to rent a Bently to drive it’s not going to be the same as a corolla either.

  6. A minimum seat pitch should be part of the FAA’s public safety standards, exactly like emergency lighting and exit slides. This will become an issue the day passengers in a survivable accident die because someone slightly taller or slightly wider than average couldn’t get out of his seat.

    1. The FAA currently has guidelines. An Airbus 319 is allowed to have 145 seats. Spirit has 145 seats (United has 120….a long way to go to hit the FAA guideline.) The 320 is allowed to have 179 seats…Spirit has 178.

  7. The front of the plane and the back of the plane arrive at the same time and travel the same distance. Thus the relevant price to value decision a flyer makes is how much of his disposable income will be devoted to how much more comfort for a limited time. Is it worth $1000 for 7 hours of 3 inches more room? How about $3000 for an even nicer seat and an edible meal? $6000 so you can lie flat, sort of?

    OK, my numbers are pulled out of the air, but the argument is unchanged. The marginal price to upgrade is high compared to the improved comfort for a relatively short period of time. It is worth it to some, but not to many, so the small seats stay.

    If we start having a scandalous increase in deep venous thrombosis and death by pulmonary embolism due to seats too small to let blood flow, and if a few lawsuits with outrageous verdicts get the airline’s attention, something may happen. The government we have will not act on this, so the question Chris proposes is moot.

    1. “The front of the plane and the back of the plane arrive at the same time ”

      True, but depending on the size of the plane and the distance your seat is from the exit as well as the speed of the other passengers in collecting their carry on and moving toward that exit, it may take you up to 30 minutes extra to get off the plane. So where you sit does have added value for many passengers. 🙂

  8. How about the padding on the seats? Me arse is so painful, me back suffers greatly after 4 hours in flight . I’ve just about decided to pack a folding carryon, empty it and put clothing on the seat so I won’t be sitting on rigid foam. Yup, I could pay for first class, but wothell we’re being packed like hogs in a semi hog carrier in coach/economy. We NEED minimum standards

    1. And the pitch depends on the padding too. There are some seats, with less padding, which allows more knee space with the same pitch of an regular seat.

  9. I’m curious to know the actual economics involved in giving people a “comfortable” seat. Is the actual cost $30 per seat or $300? It’s hard to take a look at first class fares and draw a conclusion, because there’s a certain “gotta have it” and “expense account” surcharge factored into first class fares. For domestic operations, in a two-class configuration, an AA 757 has 166 coach seats with a 31-32″ pitch and a 17.2″ seat width. I certainly agree that the fact that the seat is about as wide as a large laptop screen seems a little rediculous, but how many seats could be fit into the same floorspace at 34/18? One answer seems to be to look at the old configuration (before Main Cabin Extra) and the new one. Somehow, the original had 27 rows of economy seating, and after giving 9 of those rows a 35-37″ pitch, the new version has… 27 rows of economy seating. So it seems like if the airline is motivated enough to find space and maintain seat count, they can.

    1. In many cases, the airline removed things such as galley equipment and closets to gain additional space. They are also using seats with thinner padding which allows the pitch measurements to seem roomier than they are.

      1. On our last UA 777 flight, the seats were tighter than I have ever experienced. I think it was due to the new ADA bathroom onboard that is quite large, enabling someone in a wheelchair to actually take their chair inside, turn it around and still have room for an attendant. Got to take that room from somewhere, so it appears economy passengers gave up additional leg space.

        1. it was either taking away space from the economy passengers or removing a row and increasing the fares to make up for the lost revenues.

          1. Actually, fares this year on that flight were double what they were last year. So that didn’t cut it for me to pay over $600 to be that miserable. We normally fly first in the routing, but too many family were traveling that day that we sat with them…darn! The bathroom was great to see as it has to have been awful for those in a wheelchair to utilize the usual airplane lavatory.

          2. Since I have rental properties, I know that the door width for wheelchair access should be not less than 36 inches.

            From the various things that I have seen on the Internet, the width of an aisle on a plane is between 17 to 19 inches. According to the adagov website, the seat width of a wheelchair needs to be at least 19 inches and the width of the wheelchair measured to the outside of the rear wheels is 26 inches.

            I am not aware of any planes with economy aisles of 27 inches in order to accommodate a wheelchair with the width of 26 inches.

            How can someone in a wheelchair goes down the aisle?

          3. There are special chairs, called Aisle Chairs, that are used. Special needs must be noted in the PNR.

  10. The word is because the LCCs are stealing passengers who want cheap flights with few amenities, a major airline is to introduce a LCC style 28 in pitch seat in portion of Y. The extra legroom seats which i love would not be possible without those willing to sacrifice legroom for price. E+ on United with my own airport purchased meal or meal brought through TSA from home is almost as good as domestic F without the high price

  11. The ship has sailed in regards to consumer respect demonstrated by the USA based airlines. The so called Consumer Relations Government Agencies are firmly in the pockets of the Airline Industry. The only “protection” that they concern themselves with is their indexed pensions & benefits…at the expense of the public. It will take a long & hard battle for this to change…

  12. I have to believe there has to be some sort of regulation as to how many people can be put on a given type of aircraft. 1. too many people = too much weight = the plane never gets off the ground. 2. Too many people means that not everyone makes it off the plane in an emergency. Tough luck.

  13. I’ve flown on Southwest a few times since they started updated the interiors of their planes and I’ve had to sit in the first row due to bum knee. The seat width is definitely smaller, ridiculously so. (I suspect there are more rows on their planes now due to smaller pitch which pushes first row closer to cockpit which means first row is in a more narrow part of plane, thereby making width even worse in first row). Last Tuesday I flew two legs and had to twist my back to fit in my window seat because of the two men next to me. The first flight had muscular guys, gym goers but not steroid freeks. They definitely didn’t fit the width but were friends with each other so it wasn’t that bad. The next flight had two average American males who had wider torsos and a little belly fat which held their arms up higher when seated. The guy in the middle was always leaning to the right to avoid the guy on the left, which meant I was holding the short stick. Thanks, Southwest! (I took photos and may send them to customer service).
    *Now that I think about it, it’s possible southwest added incremental seat pitch to each row, which pushed first row closer to cockpit. IDK

    1. And smaller width means people absolutely have to recline their seats just to be able to sit next to one another and not be on top of each other.

  14. I’m waiting for someone to experience a medical emergency attributable
    to current American domestic airline seat sizes (think deep vein
    thrombosis) and sue the airline. I don’t wish specific harm on anyone,
    and I know costs of increasing seat sizes will be passed back out to
    consumers, but good god, I don’t care. I can’t expense “upgrades” (and I
    suspect most business travelers can’t), but, in addition to reducing medical issues, having adequate legroom
    makes making productive use of travel time a possibility, and I find
    value in that.

    1. I can’t expense “upgrades”

      That says it all. I want better, I can’t get the company to pay for it, let’s get the airline to pay for it.

      When I consulted with a LA firm, I paid for my upgrades. I wanted better, I paid for it. Not the firm, not the airline. It never occurred to me that someone else should pay for me.

  15. I was thinking about this very topic last night as I was exiting a theater. What with the smaller, closer seats, can an aircraft be safely evacuated quickly in case of an emergency?

    1. Exactly!

      In most cities there are rules about how many people you can pack into a public building based on number of exits, how many floors, etc. Why couldn’t there be similar rules for planes? And I’m sure there are also rules in many places about how close together and how many across those theater seats are placed. All for the safety of the customers.

      1. I would assume that there are laws which mandate a maximum number of passengers. But those laws would most likely be related purely to safety, not comfort.

      2. Finally found it! FAA, DOT regs:;;§23.803 Emergency evacuation.

        (a) For commuter category airplanes, an evacuation demonstration must be conducted utilizing the maximum number of occupants for which certification is desired. The demonstration must be conducted under simulated night conditions using only the emergency exits on the most critical side of the airplane. The participants must be representative of average airline passengers with no prior practice or rehearsal for the demonstration. Evacuation must be completed within 90 seconds.

        Yeah, right.

        1. I remember about an old article about A380 evacuation concerns because its size. In tests, Airbus was able to meet the requested time.

  16. There is one thing limiting how many seats an airline will cram into a plane: the number of flight attendants required on the plane.

    Right now the rule is one FA per every 50 passengers. Airlines are very careful not to add enough extra seats to require an additional FA on the same planes. Southwest added rows recently but stopped short of crossing the 150 passenger limit on their 737-700 planes.

  17. They claim that we only wanted cheap fares and were willing to sacrifice
    space for it. But they didn’t have any compelling numbers to back that

    Chris –

    Here are your numbers. The most profitable airlines the US as measured by operating profits as a percentage of operating revenues (7/13 – 6/14)

    Spirit 18%
    Allegiant 16%
    Republic 16%
    Alaska 14%
    Delta 11%
    Southwest 11%

    The people have spoken.

    1. Why can you simply assume that is all directly attributable to only seating. I’ve gotta believe Spirit economizes on a lot more aspects of flight services.

      1. I’m not. The article states that people cheap fares. Reduced space is a necessary, or at least highly likely, and fully anticipated result of cheap fares.

        The point being is that there is a disconnect between what Chris advocates and what people have demonstrated with their wallets.

        1. True about the disconnect. However, if air rage is a result of being cooped up in a pressurized aluminum can, then better minds should come in and set minimum standards for humane seating.

          1. I think that some of the problems of air rage is the self-centered, narcissistic, etc. attitude of people today. It is all about them not others.

      2. Spirit has the lowest pitch of 28 inches which is the smallest amount according to the WSJ. In addition, their customer service is poor at best…and we can go on…but people are still flying them because they have the lowest fares.

        I know companies that totally hate their current vendor for a product or service but will not get rid of them because they are also the cheapest.

    2. Spirit has a pitch of 28 inches of its planes. (I think that this is the smallest pitch according to an article in the Wall Street Journal)..if people really wanted more pitch between the seats than they won’t be flying Spirit and they will be out of business.

  18. To say that the designers and airlines “didn’t do the math” contributes to the problem of the airlines’ version of reality. They DID the math and figured out how to generate more revenue … they don’t care if the coach passengers are miserable, they just pretend everything’s OK. I chatted with a flight attendant last week who told me that new planes were coming with even less space. She was actually concerned that FAs will have to turn sideways to get down the aisles. I would like to see a calculation reflecting the added ticket cost if seats in coach were humanely designed.
    On the other hand, I continue to see empty premium economy seats on most flights … is $30 a deal killer for the ticket buyer? Pretty sad.

    1. Spirit has a pitch of 28 inches of its planes…people are buying seats on this airline because they have low fares. If people really wanted more pitch between the seats than they won’t be flying Spirit and they will be out of business.

  19. OMG…My spouse and I paid for 3 seats just to be able to have all of the arm rests raised for max comfort, and to avoid much of the seat-space problems mentioned here. The rests only raised 3″ or 4 “, eliminating any but the most confining scenario, and of course, all 3 people ahead of us reclined, also to the max. I’m fat, but my husband is an average height and weight. Both of us spent a horrendous 7 hr-plus flight, miserable and challenged to even climb over the seat rests to get to the restrooms. We have made a pact to stop flying for any trip over 4 hrs, and/or with plane changes.
    I have already begun to check out transatlantic cruises, which including both ways (inside cabin or reduced fare), costs only about 1/3 to 1/2 more than a premium economy RT plane ticket. We are retired, so, if time is not an issue, and the ship goes to your destination, you might give it a try! On a cruise, you have plenty of room, nice food, some entertainment and everyone treats you well. Sounds like it might work for us…..

    1. That happened to me. I find that all things being equal, the closer to the front, the better chance of having an arm rest which raises all the way. I can tell you that on AA most armrest raise all the way except bulkhead, exit rows, and the last few rows. Good Luck

  20. If you regulate the space for seats then fares will go up. I don’t think that the public is willing to pay more for space.

    Example: US Airways has 93 A319s and 72 A20s. Also, they have 107 A321s but for this example, I will use the A319s and A320s.

    The seats on an A319 are: 31 pitch and 18 width with a grand total of 112 economy seats in 19 rows

    The seats on an A320 are: 31 pitch and 18 width with a grand total of 138 economy seats
    in 23 rows

    Current configurations:

    A319: 31 inches x 19 rows equals 589 inches

    A320: 31 inches x 23 rows equals 713 inches

    Proposed configurations:

    A319: 589 inches divided by 34 inches equals 17 rows (lost of two rows or 12 seats)

    A320: 713 inches divided by 34 inches equals 21 rows (lost of two rows or 12 seats)

    Lost of seats:

    A319: 12 seats x 93 planes = 1,116 seats…will need to buy 10 more A319s

    A320: 12 seats x 72 planes = 864 seats…will need to buy 6 more A320s

    In addition to the new planes that they will need to hire, they will need to hire staff for these new planes, maintenance, insurance, fuel, etc. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the operating cost of an Airbus A320 is $2,273 per hour. The cost for an A320 is estimated around $ 50 MM USD…most airlines do lease their planes but they are going to incur substantial costs to purchase just 16 more planes.

    Currently, a lot of passengers are not spending $ 50 to $ 150 more for Premium EconomyEconomy Plusetc. For example, Economy Plus on United gives a passenger a pitch of 36 inches.

    I don’t have all of the numbers but I am confident that the new fares for regulated space of 34 inches will be higher than what the fares are today and very likely higher than the current fares for Premium EconomyEconomy Plusetc.

    1. Or they will need to increase the fare in about 10%.

      A319: from 112 economy seats to 100 seats – 11,2% fare increase to keep the same estimated profitability.

      A320: 138 economy seats to 126 seats – 9.5% fare increase

      1. What is going to happen to the passengers that can’t fly? I don’t know about you but the flights that I have been on have been packed. Most if not all airlines have reduced their capacity in the past five years. A 10% reduction of capacity across the industry will increase fares since the demand will be higher and supply will be lower.

  21. there are already minimum/maximum seating configs.
    Every aircraft when built is certified for max seating capacity.
    Eg. B737-800 & A320-200 have max at about 189 I think it is.
    But depending on galleys, toilets etc. this could be less when built.
    If an aircraft above is certified for less it’s very expensive to change, as eg. to move toilets/galleys etc costs millions.
    Most aircraft these days are narrowbodies, mainly above types.
    They even fly the Atlantic as much cheaper per seat to operate than wide bodies.
    So seat width really does come into it. The only way seat pitch can be reduced is to widen the aisle, but why would airlines do that.
    Seat pitch is wrong way to describe legroom.
    2 aircraft with same seat pitch could have very different amounts of leg room.
    eg. older seats tended to be thicker. The latest seats tend to be thinner, very thin.
    Imagine old seat was say 4 inches thick & latest seats are 1 inch thick. The latest seats give you 3 extra inches of legroom, without any change to seat pitch or number of seats on aircraft.
    Be careful what you wish for. Trying to legislate seat “room” will cost everyone & lead to much higher fares.
    To move seats 2 inches closer on above aircraft that aren’t already at maximum seating, creates around 60 inches or around 2 rows x 6 = 12 seats which is a huge amount of potential revenue for an airline.
    Years ago, in book NUTS (about Southwest) I think, it stated that their profit came down to 1 seat per flight !!!

  22. Just off an Air Transat trans-atlantic flight – and yes, it cost half what an Air France flight would have cost but…. Watching the safety instructions, I tried to get into the crash position – impossible without banging my head on the seat in front of me. I had the aisle seat and was constantly bumped by people walking past – I’m not fat but the aisles are just too narrow unless one walks sideways. The food cart just barely passed – and regularly hit people on either side. 10 seats across an Airbus are just too many seats. I would like to see the people who make these decisions try to sit in these seats. There could be tasks set – take off and put on shoes, pick something up from the floor, put on and take off a jacket, actually get the life vest from under the seat – impossible as far as I could see. I had planned to put my bag under the seat in front of me – impossible as the place in front of my seat was only 7 inches wide. I can only say good things about Air Transat but there has to be some limit to the shrinking of space for safety reasons. I can’t believe that the decision makers have actually sat in these seats for 8 hours.

  23. Yes, minimum standards are needed. At 6′ tall I barely fit into the seat and my shoulders generally extend over the edges. I’m not fat but it’s just miserable, especially on any flight over 4 hours. Also, I really like the new seats that take up your legroom when you recline and not the persons space behind you. They essentially slide forwards to recline. Fantastic for me not to get crushed by the person in front and to be able to recline without worry for the person behind me. I’ve flown a few Pacific long haul flights with them and they really make a difference.

  24. What amazes me is that some airlines provide more legroom than others, don’t the ones with inadequate leg room understand that in time they are going to lose business to the more generous airlines? It just seems to be to be a very poor business decision to not invest in comfort your customer. Most other businesses do what they can to try and please customers. Some airlines seem to do as little as they can get away with.

  25. How important is it that air travel remain affordable? One of the very few ways of compensating for the fact that fuel prices are far more expensive than 15 years ago is to fit more people onto a given flight. That means tighter seating.

    The math is pretty simple. Increase pitch from 28 to 34 inches and airfares must increase by roughly (34 inches – 28 inches)/28 inches = 21%. So, such a rule would require that airfares on carriers like Spirit go up by over 20%.

    Passengers will vote with their feet. For those who value spacious legroom, JetBlue is available — but will cost more than, say, Spirit. If you value space, you have an option. If you simply want the cheapest fare, and you’re prepared to jam yourself into a tight seat to get that, then you can fly Spirit.

    The number of annual domestic trips per population is down by over 10% since 2007. That’s millions of trips that passengers are not taking because fares have likewise increased by over 10% since 2007. If we’re ever to get people flying like they used to, tighter seat pitches cannot be avoided.

  26. please stop saying or implying that decreased seat pitch means less room.
    You can decrease seat pitch to the minimum, but still have reasonable room, if the airlines use thinner seats.
    Think of old seats as being 4 inches thick. Latest seats can be very very thinner. Let’s say 1 inch. That’s 3 extra inches of legroom, without any chance to seat pitch. So comparisons of seat pitch are meaningless unless also look at seat thickness.

  27. Stupid arguments. There is plenty of evidence consumers reject equivalent itineraries on different airlines for small fare differences. Your argument that they don’t demand less space is just stupid. They demand lower and lower fares, and reward airlines for that. They may not have asked explicitly, but the message was clear.

  28. just found an article on what’s called the

    paper thin back, tiny lip tray table & it weighs only 9kg (19.8 lbs)

    They have scooped 3 or 4 inches out of back of seat to allow more leg room without changing seat pitch + savings in fuel per year are enormous

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: