Airlines reduce space, add revenue with narrower seats
It's not your imagination. There really is a tighter squeeze on many planes these days.
The big U.S. airlines are taking out bulky seats in favor of so-called slimline models that take up less space from front to back, allowing for five or six more seats on each plane.
The changes cover some of the most common planes flown on domestic and international routes. They give airlines more paying passengers. It's part of a trend among the airlines to view seats as money-makers, not just pieces of furniture. Add a few inches of legroom, and airlines can charge more for tickets. Take away a few inches, and they can fit more seats on the plane.
Some passengers seem to mind the tighter squeeze more than others. The new seats generally have thinner padding. And new layouts on some planes have made the aisles slightly narrower, meaning the dreaded beverage cart bump to the shoulder happens more often.
And this is all going on in coach at a time when airlines are spending heavily to add better premium seats in the front of the plane.
Whether the new seats are really closer together depends on how you measure. By the usual measure, called “pitch,” the new ones are generally an inch closer together from front to back as measured at the armrest.
Airlines say you won't notice. And the new seats are designed to minimize this problem. The seats going onto Southwest's 737s have thinner seatback magazine pockets. Passengers on Alaska Airlines will find slightly smaller tray tables. United's new seats put the magazine pocket above the tray table, getting it away from passengers' knees. And seat makers saved some space with lighter-weight frames and padding.
This allows airlines to claim that passengers have as much above-the-knee “personal space” as they did before, even if the seats are slightly closer together below the knee.
New seats going into United Airlines' Airbus A320s are an inch closer together from front to back. The new seats Southwest has put on nearly its entire fleet are 31 inches apart, about an inch less than before. In both cases, the airlines were able to add an extra row of six seats to each plane. Southwest went from 137 seats to 143. Both airlines say the seats are just as comfortable.
United says the seats make each A320 1,200 pounds lighter. Southwest says the weight savings cuts about $10 million per year in fuel spending. In addition, the extra seats allow Southwest to expand flying capacity 4 percent without adding any planes, says spokesman Brad Hawkins, while collecting more revenue from the additional passengers.
At 6-foot-3, Mike Lindsey of Lake Elsinore, Calif., does not have an inch to give back to the airlines. He has flown on Southwest several times since it installed the smaller seats. “You can't stretch out because of the reduced legroom,” he says. “It's very uncomfortable on anything longer than an hour.”
Southwest flier Joe Strader now takes his billfold out of his pocket before he sits down on a flight because of the thinner cushions. Like Lindsey, he felt that he sat lower on the new seats. “The back of the seat in front of you is a little higher and makes you feel like you're sitting down in a hole,” said Strader, who lives near Nashville. Hawkins said that the seat frames are the same height, but the thinner cushions might make them seem lower.
Strader did notice one good aspect: When the middle seat is empty and you want to put up the armrest and stretch out, the new seats are more comfortable, he says.
Then there are passengers like Ryan Merrill. He says he didn't really notice any difference in the seats. “I'm used to being packed in like a sardine. I just assume that's never going to change,” he says.
International passengers are feeling crowded, too.
As recently as 2010, most airlines buying Boeing's big 777 opted for nine seats across. Now it's 10 across on 70 percent of newly built 777s, Boeing says. American's newest 777s are set up 10 across in coach, with slightly narrower seats than on its older 777s.
The extra seat has generally meant narrower aisles, and more bumps from the beverage cart for those at the end of the row. That's the biggest complaint from travelers, said Mark Koschwitz of SeatExpert.com.
“We used to recommend the aisle seats, because you could stretch out more,” he said. He tells passengers who want to sleep to “bring a jacket and prop up against the window.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Experts: If health insurers’ safeguard goes broke, consumers could pay
- Nike, Under Armour invest in watching exercisers’ steps
- Camera prevalence approaches sci-fi realm
- Scented society is killing cheap perfume industry
- Paper’s prevalence unlikely to diminish
- Rules could kick door open for nuclear power
- Visa limits vex businesses
- Tech sector drives gains on Wall Street
- ‘Promposals’ can be small as burritos, big as Jumbotrons
- MedExpress bought by United Health Group
- Mylan raises bid for fellow drugmaker; Perrigo says ‘no’