Gillian Sisley argues in a widely-discussed piece that ‘shrinking airplane seats’ are a feminist issue, because reduced space on planes fails to “accommodat[e] women’s physical biology.”
- Women have wider hips on average
- Men crowd into women’s space
- Women are less likely to speak up to defend their space
As a result the airline industry is imposing a patriarchal discomfort on women. And as an airline consumer I want to say… right on, sister!
Except even if her three basic arguments are correct, her claim about reduced space on planes is basically nonsense. That’s because while legroom (or more accurately seat pitch – the distance from seat back to seat back) has been shrinking, her complaint is predominantly about seat width. And on domestic narrowbody aircraft that hasn’t changed.
Put another way, her basic complaint is about the width of an aircraft’s fuselage. Notably Boeing aircraft aren’t as wide as comparable Airbus aircraft, and as a result seats on Boeing planes generally have an inch less width than on their Airbus counterparts.
To be sure, airlines have squeezed in more seats across on widebodies. Boeing 777s commonly have 10 seats abreast in economy, whereas they once flew with 9 seats across.
However Sisly pins this on airlines doing “whatever they can to increase profit.” Yet the pioneers of the practice included state-backed carriers Emirates and Air France, with U.S. carrier American and United coming in later. And United’s announcement of an expected profit in the current quarter, I’m not sure what industry exactly she’s been following.
What would be the result of regulating seat size? It would actually disadvantage women, especially women who travel with families and need to buy more seats.
- The primary focus of seat size regulation and legislation has been on pitch or legroom
- But imposing minimum standards here basically outlaws Spirit and Frontier
- This makes fare competition from ultra low cost carriers illegal, and doesn’t likely affect major airlines at all
- That means higher prices, and fewer women (and men) who can afford any space at all on a plane.
While I’d love for the #MeToo era to mean free Economy Plus for all it’s worth remembering that even communist North Korea’s Air Koryo offers more than one class of service.
(HT: Tommy L.)