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Air Travelers Resisting the ‘Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat’ (nytimes.com)
84 points by prostoalex on Nov 13, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 107 comments

My most recent flight was on a United 737-900 with 38 or 39 rows. The seat pitch can't have been more than 30 inches, and might have been 29. It was as cramped as I have ever seen on a 737. But the thing that really pissed me off was the incredibly cramped bathroom.

This link (https://services.airbus.com/upgrade/cabin/layout-optimisatio...) is actually an Airbus design, but it is almost exactly what I remember on this 737. Not only was it cock-eyed (I don't know what to call it), it was incredibly narrow, even for a 737 bathroom.

I wouldn't necessarily take it as gospel, but seatguru says the seat pitch on those planes is 30-31 inches. United claims the same.

https://www.seatguru.com/airlines/United_Airlines/United_Air... https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/travel/inflight/air...

My knees were touching the back of the seat in front of me. Regardless of the actual seat pitch, I don't think I could take it any smaller.

But maybe I'm already out. My next flight is booked on JetBlue even though it probably cost me quite a bit more.

>Compared with the standard lavatories, Smart-Lav brings 5.5 additional inches for more seats and 10 additional inches for recline space.

Yet they claim it "allows up to 6 additional seats in the cabin". Assuming they're in a row, I fail to see how you can fit a seat in 5.5 inches.

>The interior of Smart-Lav has been designed to enhance the spaciousness and the hygiene perception by the passengers.

It's blatantly focusing on perceptions over reality. I got sick in a plane with a similar layout(I think it was with Emirates) and I remember it being significantly more uncomfortable than any other plane I'd been on, and I think I managed to hit my head while throwing up.

If you take an inch of pitch from many other rows + the 5,5 that allows you to fit an extra row or two.

Compare Lufthansas seatmap for the A320 vs A320neo. The neo has the Smartlav and two additional rows of seats.

http://magazin.lufthansa.com/content/uploads/2016/07/a320_si... http://www.lufthansa.com/mediapool/pdf/08/media_1555228708.p...

Probably they take away seat space from others and put an extra row in the back (3 in 2 rows). Likely it gives just enough space to pass a threshold.

Carriers who buy narrow-body aircraft like 737s generally buy them for medium-haul bread-and-butter flights, with bathroom design likely coming low on the features list. If Wikipedia is to be believed, Southwest and RyanAir are the owners of the largest fleet of 737s https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Boeing_737_operators so they likely influenced the designs, everyone else just pretty much had to go along with what the big guys ordered.

That design is going to dramatically reduce membership of the mile high club.

This is why libertarianism doesn't prevail. Most people don't want to live in a caveat emptor world. All goods have hidden qualities you can't check before buying, which need to be regulated.

It's not about libertarianism, it's about a race to the bottom and apparently, there's more than enough people willing to sit in smaller seats if it saves them a few bucks.

I don’t think it’s a race to the bottom because people are okay with what we’re getting. We have no other options, at best, we get to choose our flavor of shit pie.

I have been able to successfully avoid United for the better part of a decade and I fly Alaska and Southwest the most because I’ve had a satisfactory level of service as the norm with them, not because their prices are the cheapest- else I’d be flying Spirit airlines.

Correct. We don't sit in smaller seats to save 'a few bucks', we generally sit in smaller seats because

1. they're the only ones available for the dates/times we need

2. paying 40-150% more is prohibitive for many folks (and generally, is not a 'few bucks').

If we had 30 inch and 28 inch pitch seats, and you could choose, and people would pay, say $10 more for 30 inch, that might get us a bit closer to the original comment, but we're nowhere near that set of options.

We do have "pay $50 more for 2 more inches of leg space", which in my experience a decent number of people are paying for on United Economy Plus. (I am happy to pay this price on longhaul)

>I don’t think it’s a race to the bottom because people are okay with what we’re getting. We have no other options, at best, we get to choose our flavor of shit pie.

We have no other options because most people don't care as much about seat size as they care about money. The market is working, here, it's just not working in a way that you appreciate.

It's not that there are people willing to sit in smaller seats.

It's that airlines don't tell you how badly cramped your seat is going to be, you don't think about it when buying, and people have a short memory unless the experience was so brutally bad that it fixes itself in your memory.

They should, at the very least, be forced to disclose the seat pitch on every flight, so people can make an informed decision - and then, yes, you can let the market decide.

At the moment there's no reward for offering decent seats, the airlines doing so are effectively at a competitive disadvantage compared to the ones which don't. This needs to change.

Booking directly through the airline usually allows for some sort of seat discrimination. But as most flights are booked through various aggregators, the strategy that seems to work is to offer a dirt-cheap basic ticket, and then hope to upsell the customer on premium seating at check-in time.

Only recently have aggregators started disclosing bag charges, which could be significant, especially with low-cost airlines (WOW, Norwegian, AirBerlin) outcompeting everyone else on basic ticket fare and appearing high in the results.

If the airlines offering decent seats don't have a competitive advantage, that's either because A) they're not marketing it very well, or B) people don't really care.

What you just said is basically "let them eat cake." You're talking about a captive monopoly with no real-world alternative. We're still being charged fuel surcharges even though the prices have gone down for fuel. The choice is between flying and not flying and in many cases having a job and not having a job.

Now realistically airlines aren't thieves, they generally have a hard time with their profit margins, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be severely regulated.

>libertarianism, it's about a race to the bottom

No need to be redundant.

This is nonsense. You can be critical of libertarianism but this is not a “reason that libertarianism doesn’t prevail”. You can easily find reviews online - airline x has bad service, airline y has small seats, etc. and then make a choice whether to fly on the airline. And to be frank, right now the airlines suck pretty hardcore (and airports too) because they are regulated (TSA anyone?).

I’m all for critiquing politics ideologies, I’m a social democrat and I think it’s valuable to find flaws and improve them, but this is a very silly “critique” of libertarianism that just doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny.

Muninn_'s response was flagged to death, but it was a good faith response to the parent. (Sad to see this kind of behavior creeping into HN, where disagreement is flagged instead of being engaged with directly.)

I am also sympathetic to the libertarian impulse (competition will fix it!), but as you pointed out, heavy regulation likely prevents that. I'm sure that there are SOME airline regulations we can safely roll back, but how many, and would this actually have a measurable impact on the competitive landscape? (Serious question!) I suspect that there is some regulatory capture going on, but it isn't likely to be visible except to industry insiders.

I believe competition can fix a lot of things, but to ensure competition, you have to block most, if not all mergers.

Most of the action on this is in something the article only barely mentions: safety.

First of all there's the evacuation angle. Regulations require the ability to evacuate the plane within 90 seconds, using only half of the exits. And by "evacuate" they don't mean people lined up at the door waiting to get off -- they mean the order to evacuate is given, and then 90 seconds later there is nobody left inside the plane.

There's a strong argument to be made that this is no longer physically possible with high-density seat configurations. The tests for this are already unrealistic (they involve people who are told in advance what's going to happen, who know they aren't in danger, who don't face any issues such as smoke to confuse them, and who have no particular attachment to each other or to any baggage in the cabin), and as those tests have remained static their detachment from reality has grown.

The second issue is survivability in an economy-class seat. This diagram is instructive:


That's used by airlines... for flight crew seats. It lays out an area to be kept free of obstructions, as anything in that area could cause devastating head or neck injuries in an accident (due to the seat's occupant being jerked suddenly and their head sweeping through that area). The diagram notes the area is 35 inches deep, but it's easy to miss an important point: the 35 inches is measured from the front of the seat cushion to the rear edge of any object in front of the seat. For passengers, airlines measure pitch from the rear edge of one seat to the rear edge of the next, meaning a 30-inch pitch (typical for US economy class) is not 5 inches (35 - 30) short of the safety margin, it's more like 8 or even 10 inches short depending on the depth of the seat cushions and frame.

There are court cases going right now over whether the FAA is inappropriately ignoring safety concerns. A victory in court would, as a side effect, probably make flying more comfortable but also slightly more expensive.

Yup, that's pretty scary. I'm pretty short (under 5'6") and on a recent flight I was unable to pick up an item I'd dropped on the floor quite simply because the seat in front of me was too close to permit leaning down far enough even before the person in front of me reclined.

Also, I seem to remember that decades ago, when you flew, the instructions used to be that if the aircraft was expected to crash you were supposed to bend over and put your head between your knees for protection during the crash. Did they give that up because it was ineffective advice or because seat pitch no longer permits it?

While I'm with you on safety concerns, does that rule still apply to forward facing seats? Most crashes happen when the aircraft is flying forward - so on forward facing seats the thing your head will eventually hit if it whips back is the headrest. I guess because cabin crew seats (almost always?) face backwards, this is more of a concern. (Of course, some airlines like BA offer rear facing beds in business class, but these provide much more space than the minimum clearance requirement).

The direction you're facing doesn't matter. What matters is the arc your head would sweep through in the event of a sudden jerk bending you double (since presumably your seat belt will keep you in the seat), and that can happen with either direction.

Also, crew seats don't always face backwards.

Makes sense, seat space isn't really something you consider when shopping for plane tickets. Airlines have nothing to gain by making bigger seats, so the natural progression down this road is smaller and smaller seats -- already, some seats for budget airlines are half-standing [1].

[1]: https://thepointsguy.com/2017/06/standing-seats-on-vivacolom...

I call bullshit on the standing seats. "May introduce"...

That's a marketing gag to establish the airline as low budget. Ryanair did the same thing some years ago.

Such seats would need to get approved by the FAA and I'm pretty sure they haven't been.

I am sure Ryanair say just this to anchor the current shitty conditions. "At least I don't have to pay for the toilet [1] and I still have a seat".

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/money/2009/feb/27/ryanair-toilet...

Michael O'Leary said ages ago he was taking the piss out of people and getting free oublicitt with those two concepts.

> Airlines have nothing to gain by making bigger seats ...

This is only because airlines are not obliged to -- or have not yet engaged in a marketing war with each other by -- advertising seat dimensions, either during the booking process, or via more general marketing.

I expect it'd be more useful, way more effective, and naturally less cost, to do it during the booking phase. While this may seem like it'd risk losing customers, word of mouth is powerful in this sector.

A succinct addenda such as 'compared to Xyz airline that has 50mm less space', and a hover-over picture that shows someone being annoyed by the less spacious seat, perhaps being served a meal of dubious origin by someone wearing Xyz uniform, just to drive it home. I should be in advertising.

(My understanding is that 'attack' advertising is more acceptable within the US. Here in AU we're unlikely to see this kind of thing due to a dearth of carrier choice. No idea about other parts of the world.)

The conventional wisdom on this is that historically, any attempt by airlines to differentiate their economy class product on any dimension other than price has failed. There's always a vocal subset of people complaining, but when push comes to shove, the large majority of customers will pick the flight with the lowest price.

Arguably we will eventually reach some level of service that is so unbelievably crappy that people will be willing to pay more to avoid it, but the success of the low cost carriers suggests to me that we're not there yet.

You're likely right - I've heard this observation before as well, though while I'm not especially wealthy, I'm happy to pay a slight premium for more comfort. Most of the people I know are in a similar situation. Clearly a lot of people either are willing to race to the bottom, or just aren't informed about the options -- which comes back to the earlier point, which is the information around seat size differentiation isn't being propagated, and/or there isn't much differentiation.

It'd be an interesting experiment for airlines to kit out planes to include a range of economy seat sizes, with minor price differences.

Claims that this would be overly complex are discounted by observing there's a half dozen variations of ticket classes already, including sub-categories of economy.

Matching seat sizes to people's heights would be the pinnacle of social planning -- as a 188cm tall person, walking past exit row seats occupied by people whose legs don't touch the floor rankles every time.

JetBlue immediately comes to mind as offering large number of DirecTV channels and Southwest heavily advertises two free bags, so it seems like marketing campaigns based on things other than price work, just take a while to instill.

2 free bags is a proxy for money (usually $40-50 per checked bag), but your observation about inflight entertainment is interesting.

Virgin absolutely has an image edge because of their reputation for service. My Canadian friends hate Air Canada's reliability apparently, but it's such an upgrade vs the US majors for me that I go out of my way to choose Air Canada when I'm making a trip up North. Hopefully these things will start to matter more...

Some airlines already do promote it, but in a sneaky way. I've seen "the most legroom in economy class" but it doesn't specify the dimensions.

I've seen those claims too, but as you say, they never specify dimensions, so they're in the same credibility category as 'the best pizza in town'.

    > Makes sense, seat space isn't really
    > something you consider when shopping
    > for plane tickets
And at the other end, international business class seats keep getting better and better because it's absolutely a consideration. Hence: premium economy.

I'm often surprised just how much more expensive premium economy tickets are. I get that some people are willing to pay more for extra legroom, free/better food and drink and so on, but the cost is often 5x that of standard economy. To me, that seems a ridiculous markup to pay for slightly more comfort for only a few hours, but I guess it works because airlines sell and fill these seats.

It sounds like you've hit some unfortunate combination of deeply discounted economy and/or expensive flexible fare premium to get to that markup -- for 5x you can generally get into business class on long haul flights. I've flown premium economy quite a bit, and generally the markup seems correlate pretty well with the difference in area (ie on the order of 50% markup for 50% more space, considering both pitch and width).

> for slightly more comfort for only a few hours

If it's only a few hours, sure, not a big difference. But when I fly Melbourne-London, premium economy is a difference between being a zombie for the next 48h, or arriving just tired. How much is the day after travel worth for you?

This is the calculus that you need to make in business travel, even at startups. You're flying out your CEO on a business deal to Asia, on a 10 hour flight. You can save $3k by flying him/her on Economy, but what is the hidden cost to the business by having him/her be a zombie for the next 48 hours while he/she has to negotiate a deal?

yeah, for TATL (LHR to JFK minimum) or longer (SFO etc) travel, there is a quantifiable difference in comfort for premium economy, at least in BA which i normally fly. although, i actually had a reasonable flight in economy from EWR to EDI recently in United recently, but only because i ended up with a row of three seats to myself!

On most comparison shopping websites, seat space isn't mentioned. Business class is out of reach for most people traveling economy.

That's not true for all passengers. I am sure I am not the only one to maintain a personal blacklist of airlines on which I had consistently horrendous experiences and will not fly with unless I have no other choice.

Yes, I know plenty of people who won't fly business class on a plane that doesn't offer lieflat seats.

Wow, that's like something out of the onion.

Someone should create a travel site like Kayak with a lot more details about the airline you're flying - how often they are late, CSAT score (can be bogus, I know), seating room, etc.

The old adage is that you can't manage what you don't measure, I'd love to see this stuff quantified every time I search so that I can manage my travel/money better.

I exclusively fly Virgin because their seats are 1.5" bigger and have 2" bigger leg room.

Which Virgin is that? Atlantic, Australia og US?

I think the first time I read about "standing seats" was in Ryanair magazine in 2010. They didn't introduce it, I'm sure it was because of regulations (but they're from EU, maybe airlines in other parts of the world could do that).

No they never intended to introduce it. They says something crazy like that every now and then to get in the news and to remind people they are cheap. They've had:

* Pay for the toilet

* Standing 'seats'

* Allow customers to watch porn

Probably others I've forgotten. They've even admitted they are marketing stunts.

They also did tiny beds, stacked. Which is annoying, because I'd actually pay extra to fly laying down. I don't even care how much space is available.

Which you can already do. This is exactly what business class is, right now! For example, the top deck of a BA 747 is entirely lay-flat business seats, which are incredibly comfortable for long haul. But, as you say, you have to pay (somewhat) extra, or live in hope that the computer gods decide to upgrade you...

Pretty much anyone who has so much as heard about seatguru will beg to differ! A few of the kayak / goog flights sites even display seat pitch in search results, now.

> Airlines have nothing to gain by making bigger seats

They do gain revenue from upselling "premium economy".

Not to mention those of us who travel with families. It’s quite a mess to say the least. Flying has become such a hassle I just rather drive and take a few extra days off to accommodate the commute.

Same here. If there is a train to go there I’ll pay extra and take the train. Flying sucks so much. It’s not just the airport and the plane. But getting to the airport or back home is also a hassle here in London.

Driving is not always possible, especially when there's an ocean in the middle of the trip. In that case, spending a dozen hours in a plane is much preferable to a week or more on a ship.

A good start we would be to make it mandatory for airlines to give information about the seat size during booking. Then customer could make informed decision. I would assume there are already some standards defined for how to measure these things.

I doubt they'd go for that. Airlines have to have flexibility to swap aircraft running a particular route to account for delays. If they swapped to a smaller seat pitch aircraft between a customer's booking and takeoff time, that'd lead to confusion and complaints.

So they'd have to make the seat pitches in all their aircraft the same. Sounds like a desirable outcome, especially if the seat pitches grow as a result.

You're already losing the allocated seat and maybe even the booked class if that happens. I don't think a seat would matter in this case.

I'm 6'2", so not super tall but I can barely fit in most economy seats and I also cannot fit my legs in a London bus without manspreading. I'm hoping my son is about 5'10" or 5'11" or so, otherwise I'm going to tell him, you've got to get rich if you're planning on travelling otherwise it's rather uncomfortable.

I'm 6'4" and although it's not very comfortable, I can just squeeze myself into an economy seat.

However recently when I was flying I had a neighbour who was quite big. Not even obese but just big shoulders. His arms simply didn't fit within his arm rests so part of his shoulder was inside my seat area. There was nothing else for me to do than bend to the side of my seat. Not very pleasant, especially since this was a 5 hour flight.

I think the key is femur length. If you're 6'4" but have the Michael Phelps body type (all torso, short legs) you might fit in the seat just fine. I'm 6'1" and have the opposite body type - short torso, long femurs - and the seat pitch in Delta economy is uncomfortable to me, so much that I usually pay the upgrade for Economy Comfort.

This is one of the very, very few cases where being tall isn't a major advantage. Being tall is correlated with being richer, being more likely to be hired and being found attractive. Wishing yourself or someone else to be shorter for this particular issue is borderline ridiculous to be honest.

If there is such a correlation (I didn't know there was) couldn't that just be due to people in wealthier countries generally being taller due to better nutrition? Most of the world's billionaire's couldn't double up as NBA players. I'm not saying I wish anyone to be short just so they can fit in a bus seat better, being tall is great, but not too tall, I don't want to be any taller than I am and wouldn't mind being a couple of inches shorter. Even washing the dishes can be a pain.

look at the fortune 500 CEOs. They're disproportionately tall, and there are studies on this effect.

I joke to my 6"4 friend when we fly together that this is the one time that being my height (5"8) is better than his :P

It's awful. I can't sit in aisle seats anymore; I'm a particularly awkward combination of tall and broad-shouldered, so my knees are already jammed into the seat in front just sitting there, and my shoulders jut out a couple inches over the width of the seat on each side. With a window seat, I can kind of twist myself around into the window well on all but the smallest planes, but on the aisle I get trucked constantly by the drink cart or people streaming to the bathroom.

Have you considered paying for additional space on the plane? Perhaps as a higher flight class?

As a 6'4" individual, I've already stopped flying the major airlines due to seat shrinking. Been flying JetBlue whenever it's available since their standard seat pitch is 36". Nearly got kicked off a Delta flight once because "I refused to stop pushing my knees into the passenger in front of me." I'm sorry, but with the middle seat populated and not being allowed to put my leg in the aisle, my legs go forward - and there is not enough room to not have contact with the seat in front of me.

And with the new thinner seat types discussed in the article, the passenger in front feels your knees much more than they used to. I'm 6'3" and while I've never been in trouble I have gotten a lot of dirty looks from the people in front of me.

Airlines need to start reserving the aisle or bulkhead seats for taller passengers or something, this isn't sustainable otherwise.

As a person of similar height, I would happily pay 10% more for a seat pitch that is 10% greater, just as airlines now charge for exit rows, bulkheads, etc. Make a few rows deeper, charge more for seats that pax reserve in those rows. Don't need a hot towel or free booze, thanks, just a seat that my femurs fit into, but not at 2x price of coach, darn it.

> Don't need a hot towel or free booze, thanks, just a seat that my femurs fit into, but not at 2x price of coach, darn it.

Isn’t this what premium economy is for? I’ve seen it for as little as 10% extra.

My problem is that's it's just not available - of my 4 transcontinental flights this year, all booked 2 months in advance - only on one leg was there a premium seat for me to buy (well on 2 legs, but they canceled and rebooked one of those legs - and no premium left on the rebooked flight. )

And they simply don't sell them on Bombardier CRJs that I normally fly.

PE is usually between 80-150% of the ticket price on routes between Asia and Europe (BA, Lufthansa, EVA). However PE tickets are usually more flexible on many routes and if the company is booking flexible economy tickets (usually around +75% of cheaper saver fares) then it is only a small price more to fly PE

I like to think of this as discriminatory. I'm a human being, yes, unusually tall, but a human who has no control over their height, why should I pay more to keep blood circulating to my feet?

But then the question is where does it stop, cos then little people get almost a bed while I'm getting just a seat.

Then you get obese people saying it's part of genes or they are naturally big boned so they want the wide seats. Then you get hipsters with ESAs wanting an unoccupied middle seat for their annoying dog/cat. Then the tall persons wants to sit next to their wife and kids too so they want the whole exit row for free. You dont have any control over height I guess but it's open a whole set of another problems if check-in staff start explicitly and openly profiling people. You probably find though, if travelling alone, and check-in early you can just ask for an exit room seat - only when check-in is managed by a 3rd party (check this) and the seats are already sold have I been declined, it's a request not a demand though.

Yeah I used to go early to do this, but more recently they've been far less lenient and far more airlines encourage (or borderline force) early check in. These days I just pay attention to the aircraft, I can sit in regular seats on widebody/long haul aircraft but can't do it on a320s or 737 class aircraft with budget airlines (there are surprising exceptions such as easyjet and ryanair but I think that's truly because of thinner profile seats)

I'm not even tall, but I have had flight anxiety/claustrophobia on flights before and I can only fly aisle seats. I'm often happy to pay for exit as well. What's the current markup on exit rows? 15-25%?

This is starting to happen. FinnAir has economy comfort on long haul, it's about 20% of ticket price for the upgrade, it's economy with just the legroom enhancement to 35"

So, why don't you purchase premium economy seats, which are exactly that? Probably ~50% more, but for ~50% more comfort.

Also 6'3", I've had some luck reserving bulkhead seats with British Airways for transatlantic flights, both for personal flights (can't afford more than the basic seat) and work (employer won't pay for more than the basic). The online reservation system has been effective, though I recall having to wait until a few days before the flight to reserve those seats. Of course, on busy flights they're not always available.

I did once receive an aggressive harangue from the passenger in front on a short flight (~2 hours IIRC) about how he'd paid for his seat and had a right to recline it, but unfortunately for us both I was in the middle of a row on that occasion and had nowhere to put my knees but the back of his seat, and they touched that before he even started to recline it. This had to be resolved by the cabin crew moving me to another seat.

I finally gave up and now just pay to sit up front (6’6” here)

6'7" here. I don't fly long-haul any more.

Every major airline gives the option of paying 10%-20% more and getting more legroom. United has Economy Plus, Delta has Comfort Plus, American Airlines has Main Cabin Extra...

Every major airline also sells their tickets based on transporting one human passenger, end of story. I'd be open to a price based on some linear combination of pitch/weight/etc. But shrinking seats so they don't fit actual people, and then upcharging for a few inches of "premium" space is downright fraudulent. It might only be 20% over their fantasy "full fare" prices, but it's a larger proportion of the actual prices most people pay.

Regular economy airplane tickets are a lot cheaper than they used to be N years ago for any N.

I fit well in a regular airline seat. Why should I pay more because a fatter or taller person wants to sit more comfortably in an airplane without paying extra for a seat in economy plus designed for that exact purpose?

"Why should I pay more" isn't really an argument in the context of a company that is trying to extract the maximum price from every single person. Someone else's price going down will not make yours go up.

But as I said, if the variation in humans is really that large, then charging a linear combination for depth/weight based on actual costs would be completely understandable.

For the current state, let's take a quick look at say United [0]. A regular ticket from BOS to LAX is $139, which is in line with the general range one would expect to pay [1]. The upgrade to "Economy Plus" is $99. So for a pitch increase of 20%, the price is 70% more?! This is price discrimination based on immutable physical qualities - straight up gouging.

[0] I chose what I thought would be the worst offender here

[1] and has been roughly the price for well over a decade, disregarding the new bag fees

And they reserve the right to give that seat to another customer at boarding time, so despite having paid extra, you end up with a seat you literally can't sit in for the flight, leaving the flight crew with a problem the ground crew have created. On top of that, the only refund you can get when they do this is the 10% surcharge for the upgrade, not the price of the seat you now can't use.

I fly 75,000 per year on United and never once was my economy plus seat surrendered at the boarding gate involuntarily. Getting gate-bumped is extremely rare based on passenger miles flown.

And yet it's happened to me twice, and I specifically avoid long-haul flights because of my height. This probably depends on the airline.

It was more like 50~100% extra last time I checked. Perhaps because I always fly international, and the economy plus seats are more popular on those?

    Every major airline gives the option of paying 10%-20% more and getting THE SEAT PITCH THAT USED TO BE STANDARD A DECADE AGO.
Fixed that typo for you.

Though not a complete solution, I wonder if it would be possible to implement a no-recline subsidy. A tall passenger could offer a subsidy, perhaps $20, on the seat in front of them in exchange for that seat being set to not recline. The passenger purchasing the no-recline seat would have to explicitly agree to accepting the restriction to get the subsidy. Given how much emphasis many fliers put on getting the least expensive ticket, I wouldn't be surprised if there would be a taker for most subsidy offers. Not sure how well the implementation would go. Would it rely on the subsidized passenger upholding their half of the deal or would it need to rely on inserting a mechanical wedge of some sort that would be a cost to the airline. Or perhaps an automated solution could be found.

Even unreclined it's getting so that people in the mid 6-foot range will have their knees driven into the seat in front of them if there's no room to the sides.

I'm 6'6" and it's gotten to the point that the emergency row seats are getting tight (other than the one directly next to the hatch itself).

I feel for you.

I'm 5'4" / 163 cm tall. In other words I'm short. Even my knees are touching the seat in front of me sometimes. Even I've had a passenger in front of me bash my knees when they reclined. How in the world anybody taller than me manages, I have no idea.

When I'm seated next to a window and the middle seat is vacant (rare), travel in coach becomes much more bearable. Do airlines allow a passenger traveling alone to purchase two adjacent seats? Probably not, but it would be an interesting social experiment to do this and observe how passengers and crew respond during boarding.

This is possible but also requires a bit more coordination than just buying two seats. If no one checks in for the second seat, the airline may decide it's available if you haven't made special arrangements when booking.

Air New Zealand (and I think some Chinese airline) also have a program where if you're traveling as a group of two, there are special rows in economy where you can buy out the middle seat for less than it would normally cost. These rows also have locking fold up extensions that fill the space between your seat and the seat in front, so if you and your partner are both pretty small and extremely friendly, you can both sleep lying down.

Yes they do though I think you need to coordinate with the airlines to book it properly so the second seat doesn't get canceled/replaced at the last min.

If you're overweight to the point that you overflow into the neighboring seats some airlines mandate you buy two seats: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/35406030/ns/travel-news/t/oversize....

I remember the days before the United Continental merger where this would happen all the time.

RIP Good Days.

They probably do actually, the larger overweight people don't fit in a single seat.

The push to shrink the space between rows of seats comes as major carriers are squeezing 10 abreast in more long-haul jets, so that the middle section has four seats — and, by definition, two middle seats — rather than three.

3-4-3 in a 747 feels quite comfortable, but I would certainly not like it on any smaller plane.

I was thinking the same. 3-4-3 on a 747 is fine, but the same arrangement on a 777 does not sound appetizing.

Its not. Qatar Airways made my no fly list recently, they used to be great but densification on 777 is painful, especially after stepping off an equally cramped new sardineliner. Back to above-average Emirates and A380, the densification programs esp on 777,and new cans like 787, have actually made aircraft like a380, a330, and 747 rate higher than ever.

People getting bigger. Seats getting smaller. Something's got to give.

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