Christopher Elliott, who will be bringing his blog to BoardingArea.com, says the government should regulate legroom and shoulder room onboard planes.
He offers a scary quote from the ever credible FlyersRights group.
“Airlines are aggressively reducing seat and passenger space to squeeze more revenue out passengers, despite health and safety being threatened,” says Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, an advocacy group for air travelers.
And concludes that “he solution.. as simple as developing minimum seat comfort standards and enacting common-sense government regulation to enforce them.” He wants 34 inches of seat pitch, and 18 inches of width.
Now, the US average is 31 inches of pitch (distance from seat back to seat back). That’s related to legroom, but not the same thing since legroom can be increased when the seats themselves are made thinner (I do not generally find that style of seat comfortable).
This is consistent with world standards. You do have airlines like Spirit offering less legroom, just as you have low cost carriers doing the same throughout the world. But it’s not Spirit that the piece argues is a problem, it pulls an example of frustrated inflight passengers going postal from a recent Delta flight.
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?
Granted, airlines are squeezing 10-across on a Boeing 777 while they used to put in 9 seats. American has recently joined Air France and Emirates going 10-across, and still gives customers 17 inches of seat width. United’s 777s, nine across, give 18 inches.
People Choose the Product They Get, Every Day
I found this statement in the piece curious:
Truth is, as a consumer advocate, I’ve never received a request from a passenger to reduce the amount of space on a plane. No one ever asked to be squished into a seat in exchange for a deal. Airlines just assumed their customers didn’t care about comfort — something we now know isn’t entirely accurate.
Mr. Elliott may never have been asked by a customer for less room, because customers don’t need to go to him for help. But customers ask for this every day.
They buy the seats the airlines offer.. whether with 31 inches of pitch or – unless they’re a qualifying frequent flyer, for a higher price — ~ 34 inches of pitch. And they choose not to buy the seats that have extra legroom, as well.
In fact, American Airlines tried doing what Elliott wants. It was called More Room Throughout Coach. Everyone got extra legroom. They couldn’t earn a revenue premium at all, people weren’t choosing American over their competitors as a result of the offering. So they added seats back in.
I suppose you could argue that people shouldn’t have the choice, except to be more comfortable, and airlines shouldn’t have the choice either– if all of them had to offer more room, then it wouldn’t be a competitive advantage or disadvantage. That will also put air travel out of reach for some, since it will force up the price of tickets.
Regulating Seat Width and Pitch Will Increase Prices
“But we shouldn’t have to pay more!” you might say. Except that you will.
Fares have gone up because flights are full, there’s demand for a supply of seats that have remained relatively stable (capacity discipline).
Roomier seats means fewer seats. And that means higher fares. You’re not just displacing seats that would otherwise go empty, you’re displacing passengers. You’re removing seats that otherwise get sold at the lowest prices on the aircraft.
The same demand for air travel, less supply, prices will rise — everyone will pay more for transportation.
There’s No “Win-Win” That the Airlines Are Ignoring
Elliott thinks that airlines can squeeze in just as many passengers while providing the kind of comfort he wants, if only they would choose the right seats.
Several seat design concepts take into account available room and offer ample comfort to air travelers. Fitting more passengers on a plane and the right to a comfortable flight “don’t need to be opposing ideas,” says Joshua Zinder, a Princeton, N.J.-based architect who specializes in sustainable design.
First of all, slimmer seats that provide more legroom in the same total footprint on the aircraft are themselves uncomfortable. You trade more room for your legs for greater discomfort in your back.
Second, Elliott’s proposed seat pitch regulations would make these seats illegal, too. That’s because seat pitch isn’t an amount of legroom, it’s a distance from seat back to seat back. Here Elliott proposes that seats maintain the same distance from seat back to seat back they currently have so that airlines can squeeze in just as many passengers, while getting extra legroom out of the seat design. But those seats will still have the same pitch, that Elliott wants to ban.
- There are different airlines offering different products.
- And most airlines themselves offer differentiated products at different price points.
Should airlines be allowed to continue to offer these different products, that customers can choose — or do you agree with Christopher Elliott that government should force airlines to only offer the higher-end products that are more expensive?