Friday, November 06, 2015

The Airline Seat Squeeze

 I recently experienced one of the most uncomfortable flight I can remember aboard a Boeing 717 operated by Delta Airlines ( The flight was smooth and ahead of schedule, luckily, but I was wedged in a small middle seat and just could not find a way to sit where my body didn't ache. Fortunately, the flight was relatively short.

I am a fairly small person with body mass index of about 20, so I cannot imagine how difficult flying in economy must be now for larger people, of whom there are many. As people are getting bigger, airplane seats are getting smaller. And no, it's not just your imagination.

According to an article in Conde Nast Traveler (,) coach airline passengers in the United States are the most unhappy travellers in the world. Major airlines are trying to do more with less by jamming more seats into planes and removing the padding from seats. For example, United ( operates Boeing 737-800s which were designed to carry 152 passengers and crams as many as 166 on board.

Air France ( and American (www, are among the companies using Boeing 777s for long haul flights, and they have managed to cut the seat size down from  an original 18.5 inches to 17 inches. I flew Air France recently, an Airbus, and also found its seats small and lacking in comfort.

Apparently things are only likely to get worse. I read somewhere that Airbus has patented a design for airplane seats that resemble a bicycle saddle, so soon flying the friendly skies could resemble taking the subway at rush hour.

If you want to check out the seats on your chosen flights beforehand, consult the information on sites such as Perhaps taking a knockout pill before boarding would help?

While we shuffle around tyring to get comfortable in ever-smaller seats, we need to remember that the price of flying has, in inflation-adjusted terms, come way down ovet the past few decades. The first time I flew to Europe to attend graduate school, I remember paying something like $500 or $600 for a return ticket. That was about half the cost of a year's tuition then at the Johns Hopkins Bologna Center. Today the tuition at many private colleges is in the range of $50,000 per year, while the cost of cost of flying to Europe has barely risen.


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