Pi Attitude Zone: Conformity & Stability

Now It’s Air Rage

Air-travelers seems to be increasingly obsessed with declining and recliningdeclining amounts of space between the seat rows in coach class, and reclining seats eating into their space still further.  More and more passengers are in angry revolt.  They are not just revolting against the airlines, but against each other as well.

And they have a point.  Seats are getting closer and closer together on economy airlines.  In the last twenty years the space between seat rows has been shrunk by 10%, from an average 34 inches to 31 inches.  Some airlines have gone down to 28 inches, and are padding seat cushions with thinner materials to economize still further on space per passenger.  With re-configured coach cabins, airlines like Spirit can now cram 178 passengers into a square footage once occupied by only 150.  All this coincides with the average size of the passengers themselves getting noticeably bigger, thanks to expanding waistlines.

Which leads us to the seat-back recline problem.  Air rage incidents mostly start with the passenger in front of you “exercising his/her rights”, and pushing their seat back into the recline position – i.e. into your face.  The customary retaliatory measure is to jam your knees into the small off the guy in front’s back, to let him know how you feel.  Cabin staff are often called over to arbitrate these disputes.  A new cabin-design trend is to replace recliner seats with fixed ones, which stay upright at all times.  The comfort-minded can sometimes pay extra for special coach seats with more leg-room and the coveted recline option.  But the overall result is that airlines are treading an increasingly delicate line between offering low fares and keeping their customers from physically assaulting each other.

Why is all this happening, and who is fundamentally to blame?  For the real reason, look no further than the traveling public themselves, whose ceaseless quest for cheaper economy travel has squeezed the airline business’ margins to the point where the pips squeak.

Passengers should reflect that, when air travel was relatively more expensive, fewer people travelled, and fewer of the available flights were filled to capacity.  Cheaper fares have landed a double blow against passenger comfort, first by squeezing airline profits so that they have to fit more seats into the available space, and second by making those seats more affordable to more people, thereby increasing passenger load factors.  The result: less comfort in economy seats, and more people scrambling to fill them. 

The math could only really go one way.  The airlines are shrugging their shoulders, as if to say “Passengers spoke, we listened”.

Pi to airline passengers:  in future, be careful what you wish for next time.

Zone: Conformity & Stability Country: USA / North America Product – Travel