Torture in the Skies: Air Travel About to Become Even More Miserable
A handful of major U.S. airlines are about to make their already tiny and uncomfortable economy seats even tinier and more uncomfortable. CIO.com blogger Al Sacco says enough is enough.
By Al Sacco
Managing Editor, CIO
I loathe modern air travel; the frequent delays and cancellations; the frustrated and overworked crew members; the overbooked and packed planes; and the general lack of communication between airline representatives and passengers throughout the travel process. All of these things pain me more than a little.
But what I hate most of all is how uncomfortable it is to fly nowadays. I’m a big man at almost 6′ 3″. I can barely fit into the economy seats on most airlines today. And because the vast majority of my travel is business-related, I can’t really justify the upgrade to business- or first-class; if I want a larger seat, I have to pay out of my pocket.
Air travel is about to get even more uncomfortable. Many major North American airlines, including JetBlue, my personal airline of choice and the airline that has in the past boasted “the most legroom in coach,” will be chopping their seats’ “pitch” measurements by at least another inch, according to a report on Boston.com. (Pitch is defined as “the distance between any given point on a seat to the identical point on the seat in the next row forward or to the rear,” according to SmarterTravel.com.) In other words, those tiny, uncomfortable seats are about to get even tinier and even more uncomfortable:
“Southwest is one of several airlines squeezing seats closer together in order to pack in more passengers, create rows with extra legroom for people willing to pay more, or both. Southwest Airlines has started adding six more seats to its planes, losing an inch of room between seats in the process. WestJet, out of Canada, is whacking several inches of space to make room for a section of higher-fare seats with extra legroom.
“Legroom is going the way of checked bags, in-flight meals, and pillows — once-free amenities that now come at a cost. In a fiercely competitive industry, this allows airlines to offer lower base ticket prices, while generating new revenue from those willing to pay additional fees.”
This trend isn’t new. A number of airlines, including United, have been offering more expensive economy seats with more legroom for years. But the problem is the smallest seats just keep getting smaller and smaller. Ten years ago, the average seat-pitch size was 32 inches, today it’s 31 inches, and some airlines offers seats as small as 28 inches, according to Boston.com.
The airlines say they’ll be able to offer lower base-ticket prices, but the fact of the matter is that fewer “affordable” seats will be available overall, since rows of the smallest seats will need to be removed to make room for the “premium” seats. And smaller, cheaper seats don’t do you any good at all if you’re taller than six feet. In other words, you’ll soon be paying more for that same, uncomfortable seat.
What’s next? Standing room only, with belts to strap you and the others who can’t afford pricier seats to the airplane walls?
These changes will likely result in fewer people traveling. It’s already difficult enough for me to squeeze into an economy seat for six hours on a flight from Boston to San Francisco. I honestly don’t think I could deal with a smaller seat. So I just won’t.
That’s an unfortunate reality, because I love to travel. But enough is enough. If travelers just continue to take these unreasonable changes in stride, the airlines will only continue to abuse their customers.
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.