The case of the shrinking aeroplane seat: real or your imagination? 98



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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.

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.”

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?


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  1. The width of some airline seats has reduced. I know I could do with losing a bit of weight but some seats are comfortable and wide and others cramped. Leg room can vary but it is always pretty cramped. The worst flight I’ve ever taken though was on an older model Singapore Airline plane, with our knees crammed into the back of the seats in front. Singapore to London is a long way to travel in such uncomfortable conditions.

    4 REPLY
    • I traveled on Singapore Airlines in July and there definitely felt like more room than when I traveled with them a few years ago.

    • We flew Adelaide/Singapore that same trip and it was a great plane and have flown back from the UK with them since and it was a better plane. My husband said that plane type was being taken out of service by most airlines or only used on short domestic flights. Had an altercation with the airline staff over reclining seats too on that flight as my husband at 6’3″ had his knees in the way when the woman in front reclined. There was nothing he could do as they are a necessary part of his legs. It was quite an unpleasant flight for such a long flight.

    • I always feel sorry for very tall people sitting on planes. On a good plane mine don’t quite hit the seat in front but I’m only 5’6″. I don’t think the seats need to recline on short haul trips. I’m off to Israel next month so not looking forward to that trip.

    • My son was a member of a basketball team that flew around southeast Australia competing at 6’4″ he was one of the shorter members of his team. I don’t know how the really tall guys got on. Yvonne just think on the destination and remind yourself that the flight will end in X number of hours. With family in Canada we head that way every year or two. Sydney/Vancouver has become our preferred route, then after a day or two onto our final destination in Ontario. I just keep telling myself I’ve only got X hours to go.

  2. I am lucky I am short. My husband flies twice a week for work and he said he has not noticed any difference in seat or leg room. He may of course be flying on older planes. The only time I notice is when I am seated next to an obese person. The airlines have to start charging obese people for 2 seats. They are already occupying 2 seats mine and theirs. I feel sorry for tall people.

    1 REPLY
    • I am one of those larger people and one of the problems is the narrowing of the seats. Most planes I fit comfortably in my space but every now and then I get a flight with narrower seats, it is then uncomfortable, being tall too means I get pinned in my seat. I’ve heard of people buying two seats as they need the extra for comfort and then not getting their seats allocated next to one another. Air Canada was notorious for allocating seats all over the plane and charging extra for families or friends to get seats in a block together. It was an Air Canada flight I think that this occurred.

  3. Quite a bit ,I must say,with the average size of the Australian body getting larger as they get older, I find it even hard to drop the service tray, these days, even with the seat in front in the upright position. !!

  4. Yep. Jetstar in particular. So I’ve given them the flick. Small planes have always been a tight fit so if they are the only option don’t complain. I’ve flown to Weipa twice and talk about “shake, rattle and roll” and Qantaslink charge like wounded bulls for the privalige. Why not all of the FIFO workers means full flights.

    Craziest trip I’ve had was out of a grass field 50 odd minutes out of Cairns. 6 of us got out to the strip and cleared the roos and cattle off and waited for the plane. When the plane arrived it was a five seater. After much discussion one of the blokes agreed to sit on a milk crate in the front of the cargo section which was empty. So off we went and got off in two small groups instead of all together. That was in 86 so I doubt it would happen today. B|

  5. Because I am already short, the leg room is OK for me. However, I would not want to be a tall person when flying cattle class.

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