There’s a current call for the federal government to impose ‘minimum seat standards’ on US airlines.
I’ve seen reporting on this, and largely ignored it as silly, but since it keeps showing up everywhere I look it seemed worth comment. One example is, via Paul H., this story in the Los Angeles Times.
“The shrinkage of seats and passenger space by airlines to generate higher profits while the size of passengers has substantially increased has created an intolerable crisis situation,” according to the petition. “It is threatening the health, safety and comfort of all passengers.”
Singapore Airlines long haul economy seat: head rest, foot rest, video on demand and a cup holder
It’s reporting on a petition circulated by Flyers’ Rights and forwarded to the FAA. Flyers’ Rights told everyone their miles were at risk in American Airlines’ bankruptcy. They’ve been alleged to fabricate their data.
Christopher Elliott was hawking this idea last fall. As then, there’s absolutely no evidence that current seat sizes ‘threaten health’ or ‘safety’.
- Standard legroom on US carriers hasn’t decreased over the past 25 years. Average legroom has actually increased over that time, with the advent of extra legroom (“economy plus”-style) seats.
- Airlines have offered 31 inch pitch (distance from seat back to seat back) for many many years and so there’s ample empirical evidence on this.
- Spirit Airlines offers 3 fewer inches of legroom in most seats. Many airlines do the same. Those seats are considered ‘safe’ if not uncomfortable. But Spirit isn’t the primary target of the group’s criticisms, the major airlines are. (And without Spirit’s business model competing against the major airlines, fares would be higher.)
Seats may be less comfortable: the introduction of slimline seats, more seats in a row (eg 10-across seating on a 777), and overall planes are more full than they were 5 years ago. But none of that is a legroom issue per se.
American Airlines Boeing 787 economy legroom
“Main Cabin Extra” offers additional inches of legroom
As for width, an Airbus narrowbody aircraft will generally give you an 18 inch seat width now. While a Boeing aircraft, same six-across seating, will give you about 17 inches. It seems the problem here is the airframe. Should we outlaw the 737?
What level of comfort any passenger needs will vary based on personal preferences, body characteristics (shorter people don’t need as much legroom as tall people do), as well as the length of the flight.
There is this zinger, though:
During the meeting, panel member and travel expert Charles Leocha said he was troubled that the government has adopted minimum space requirements for dogs traveling on airplanes but not for humans.
I’ll be sympathetic to that argument the next time a passenger is involuntarily downgraded from economy to cargo.
We’d all love it if airlines just had to give us more space, and there were no consequences beyond that. But restricting seats on a flight raises the price of remaining seats.
The bottom line is this:
- There are different airlines offering different products.
- Most airlines themselves offer differentiated products at different price points.
Consumers can choose the level of comfortable they’re looking for, and what ithat level of comfort is worth paying for. All this petition would do is remove inexpensive choices. We’d all be forced to pay more, while we currently have a choice to pay less (and less get) on a given trip if we prefer.
American Airlines 787 Business Class Seat