The case of the shrinking aeroplane seat: real or your imagination?

Next time you catch a plane, check out the amount of legroom you have. Is it the same as it used to be many years ago, or has it shrunk?

If you think it has shrunk, you may not be imagining it, at least according to US figures.

US consumer groups are up in arms because the average seat pitch, a rough measure of legroom, has dropped from 35 inches before airline deregulation in the 1970s to about 31 inches today.

Fortune reports the average width of an airline seat has shrivelled from 18 inches to about 16 ½. That may not seem much, but when space is this tight every inch counts – literally!

To add insult to injury, the shrinking seats are coming at at time when the US airline industry is enjoying record profits.

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Not surprising, US consumer group FlyersRights is up in arms, saying seat size decreases have raised concerns not just about comfort, but for the safety and health of passengers as well.

They have asked US regulators to regulate a minimum seat width and delivered a petition with 30,000 signatures backing up their call to arms.

FlyersRights’ president Paul Hudson says seat size decreases have raised concerns not just about comfort, but for the safety and health of passengers as well.

“Even on an incident-free flight, a lack of space can affect a passenger’s health,” he said.

“Flying can cause potentially life-threatening blood clots from lack of movement and cramped spaces. The condition is called deep vein thrombosis.”

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He said the Federal Aviation Administration also requires airlines to test their emergency evacuation plans, but airlines had not run tests in aircraft with seat pitches under 31 inches, even though they were operating with seat pitches as low as 28 inches.

However, Fortune reports carriers have defended the decision to shrink legroom, claiming market forces should determine what kind of seats are offered on a plane. At least two airlines may also be rethinking pitch as part of their marketing. United has announced plans to launch a program to increase seat pitch, in the first several rows of coach, and American has announced plans to one-up America by increasing seat pitch.


What do you think? Is legroom shrinking in Australia too and do you think cheaper ticket prices are a fair trade-off for less legroom?