FlyersRights commissioned independent aviation safety journalist, Gary Stoller, to write about aircraft seating. May be republished with permission - call 800-662-1859 for more information
Frequent business traveler David Hall says uncomfortable airplane seats have "dramatically degraded
" the travel experience.
Foretelling the future
"The seats and their spacing allow for people to sit, not comfortably, shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow, and the seat padding is either too worn on older planes or too thin on new ones,"says Hall, an engineer in Edmond, Okla., who installs medical systems.
"I am tired of leaning away from people who spread out as much as possible, and my back aches from these trips."
Hall is one of many airline passengers complaining that airlines have jammed too many seats into planes to maximize profits, and lack of seat and leg room is irritating, unhealthy and unsafe. "I cannot imagine the chaos an emergency evacuation would cause in these cramped quarters,"he says.
Concerned about passengers'well-being, the consumer-advocacy group, FlyersRights.org, will this month file a petition with the Federal Aviation Administration calling for various pro-passenger measures, including establishing standards to improve seating conditions.
FlyersRights.org says cramped conditions in aircraft cabins promote passenger discomfort, could cause deep-vein thrombosis and can endanger a safe emergency evacuation.
The FAA has no regulations for seat size or pitch (pitch is the space from one point on a seat to the same point on the seat in front). The agency says it does not regulate comfort, the risk of deep-vein thrombosis is "very low" and seats' size and pitch do not hinder emergency evacuations.
The width and pitch of seats varies by airline and by aircraft type. An extra inch or two in width or pitch can make a substantial difference in comfort.
According to the SeatGuru website, the pitch of coach seats on American Airlines jets, for example, varies from 31 inches to 37 inches, and the seat width varies from 17 inches to 18.5 inches. On Delta Air Lines planes, the seat pitch varies from 30 inches to 35 inches, and the seat width varies from 17.2 inches to 18.5 inches. The smallest pitch is 28 inches on some Airbus jets of budget carrier Spirit Airlines.
FlyersRights.org President Paul Hudson says congressmen and aviation policymakers in the White House should fly in the middle seat of coach-class rows until "humane seat and space standards are set, and there is a freeze on further shrinkage.
"We call on members of Congress to take a middle-seat pledge and reject airline perks-including first-class or biz-class seating-till action is taken,"says Hudson, who is also a member of the FAA's Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee. "The public needs to know how their reps vote with their tushes and who is in bed with the airline lobby."
Airlines For America, the trade group representing U.S. airlines, sees no reason for government action.
"Airlines are spending more than $1.2 billion a month reinvesting in the customer experience,"providing "new planes, in-flight entertainment, chef-inspired meals, larger overhead bins and more,"says Melanie Hinton, the group's spokeswoman.
"Given the variety of service options airlines offer the traveling public, we don't see the need for government intervention. We believe the market is working, and each airline should continue to determine which products and service offerings best meet the needs of its customers."
Many airlines charge extra for roomy coach-class seats. Delta Air Lines, for example, charges more for its "comfort-plus seats,"which provide, the airline says, up to three additional inches of legroom on domestic flights.
Hinton says Southwest Airlines recently added extra room to its coach seating; United Airlines will add new planes on its regional routes "that come with wider seats and aisles than other regional aircraft," and Hawaiian Airlines installed "slimline seats" for more legroom on some jets.
Many customers, however, are fed up with the cramped conditions presented by most coach seats.
At a hearing of a Department of Transportation consumer advisory group in April, group member Charlie Leocha said the government establishes standards for dogs flying in a plane's cargo hold but not for passenger seats. Leocha called on the Transportation Department and the FAA to take action "for humane treatment of passengers."
Frequent business traveler Henry DeLozier, a partner in an international consulting firm, Global Golf Advisors, would like to be treated better.
"The progressive shrinking of seating space on aircraft is a disservice to passengers,"DeLozier says."Other than profitability for airlines, there is no justification."
In its petition calling on the FAA to establish seat standards, FlyersRights.org says airlines are "aggressively reducing seat and passenger space" on new and existing planes "to squeeze more revenue out by adding more seats, charging extra for what had previously been standard seat space, to the point that passengers are loudly complaining, and health and safety is threatened."
FlyersRights.org says that, until standards are adopted, there should be "a moratorium on reductions in seat size, width, padding, pitch and aisle width."
Richard Rosichan says he almost got into a fistfight two years on a Spirit Airlines flight when a passenger reclined a seat into his knee.
"I dislike the crowding on virtually all coach sections of virtually all airlines these days, but my biggest gripe is people who recline their seats into my lap and make it impossible to use my tray,"says the retired 74-year-old flier who lives in Miami Beach, Fla.
Health and medical experts say a significant number of Americans are overweight or obese - another factor in many passengers'discomfort on planes. The CDC says more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, and a 2014 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese.
Frequent flier Jennie Otey, a skin care therapist in Atlanta, is not overweight and doesn't have a problem with seating conditions in coach.
"The seat spacing is fine for me,"she says. "However, I am 5-foot-4 and an average weight for my height."
Frequent traveler Tim Orris says he will not fly because of his size.
"I am 6-foot-5 and 360 pounds, and I refuse to pay for multiple seats or have my knees crushed so a 12-year-old can recline a seat six inches,"says Orris, a booking agent for a circus company. "Seating space seems to be designed for jockeys. I either drive or find a private aircraft that will let me ride along."
Frequent business flier John Bell is not overweight but is also disgusted with the cramped seating conditions.
"As a flier who racks up 100,000 miles a year, I can tell you with authority that seating space is disgraceful,"says the senior vice president for a software company in Virginia. "In coach, I can't even open my laptop if the guy in front leans back.
"You can't stretch your legs anymore or turn in your seat to take a nap, Bell says. "God help us if we have to get out of those torture devices in an emergency. Passengers, airlines and the FAA must be concerned that current seating configurations make aircraft essentially inescapable with limited time."
FAA spokesman Les Dorr says "the critical factor" in an emergency evacuation is "the time required for people to pass through the emergency exits, rather than the time they need to leave their seats and reach the exits."
Dorr says numerous evacuation demonstrations and "actual emergencies "have shown that "providing more space between seats would mean, at best, that passengers would spend more time at the emergency exits waiting their turn to egress.
"While passengers may find the typical seat pitches of today to be less comfortable, they do not pose a safety issue, "he says.
Regardless of seating configuration, the FAA requires aircraft manufacturers to show that all passengers aboard a passenger jet can be evacuated in 90 seconds.
In its petition to the FAA, FlyersRights.org maintains that "narrow aisle widths make timely emergency evacuation difficult."
Frequent business traveler Phil Bush says lack of seating space is definitely a health concern on long flights.
"You need to be up and moving about a little on any flights over a few hours,"says the Atlanta-based sales enablement consultant who has flown on about 50 flights this year. "If not, you are subject to issues with blood clots."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "prolonged cramped sitting during long-distance travel" interferes with blood flow in the legs. This can lead to deep-vein thrombosis - blood clots that could be life-threatening. Risk of deep-vein thrombosis increases with height, "possibly because taller passengers have less leg room, "the CDC says.
The World Health Organization says the risk of deep-vein thrombosis increases two to three times after long-haul flights and other modes of travel involving "prolonged seated immobility."On average, one of every 6,000 passengers will "suffer from "deep-vein thrombosis after a long-distance flight, the WHO says.
In most cases of deep-vein thrombosis, blood clots are small and do not cause any symptoms, according to the WHO. Larger clots, though, may cause swelling of the leg, tenderness, soreness and pain. Occasionally, the WHO says, a piece of a clot may break off and become lodged in the lungs, "causing chest pain, shortness of breath and, in severe cases, sudden death."
After consulting with the FAA's Federal Air Surgeon office, the FAA's Dorr says "there is no evidence of a difference between the incidence" of deep-vein thrombosis "in passengers seated in a business-class seat versus those sitting in economy class."Business-class seats are often wider and have more leg room than coach seats.
Previous studies, Dorr says, have shown "immobilization is a significant risk factor in air travelers."Passengers on flights exceeding four hours-particularly those who are obese or use oral contraceptives - should move about to minimize the risk of deep-vein thrombosis, he says.
John Steinberg, a doctor and a consultant who has flown on 58 flights this year, says seating space in coach is "bad and getting worse," and he has another health concern.
"We are now seated so close that catching communicable diseases is more likely, "says Steinberg of Randallstown, Md. "Catching drug-resistant tuberculosis can be life altering, and even a cold, though harmless, makes working on the road a lot more difficult."
Re.The investigation into airline price price collusion,
As you clearly pointed out, the U.S. airline industry is acting in collusion to control fares and capacity. As a business flyer living in a non-hub city in Ohio, I have seen air service plummet and increase in price. Fares to some cities are double what they were 2 years ago, but even worse, it now takes 5-6 hours to travel to a city which used to be reachable in 1-2 hours. My time is no longer my time. It has been stolen by the U.S. airlines, and it is considered a free good.
Imagine if the following businesses were run like the airlines:
1. Auto industry. Your order is taken for a vehicle, and the auto company decides to give you something other than what you ordered because it was the best that they could do. Hey, we got you a vehicle didn't we?
2. Grocery. Only 6 loaves of bread are on the shelf for sale, so the price is higher just because.
3. Retail. If you want to buy anything on short notice, the price will be higher. And the price will always be higher on a holiday weekend. And if you need to exchange an item, there will be a mandatory change fee.
Congratulations! I have been communicating with Sen. Blumenthal office on this matter. It is shameful that what deregulation promised is now a hoax. the airlines need to be regulated and subject to anti-trust regulations as are other industries. Why not airlines? Yes, foreign airlines need to be granted access to US skies and US Airlines need to have access abroad. Competition will improve traveling for all.
Precisely right! Just like the insurance industry - but they are legally sanctioned to fix prices, conspire to fix prices and carry on legal collusion. The airline industry simply buys the lawma
kers (sic) and does the same thing! Good article. Screw the people that claim FR is a "naderite"!
Kendall, I'm not surprised at the admission of capacity discipline. I subscribe to Business Travel News and the CEOs have been transparent about this. -B.
1. Thank you for the work that you all do. You're an invaluable resource for airline passengers.
2. This article makes me sick. Please keep up the fight against such behaviors.
A free press exists so that citizens know the truth and can vote their conscience.. But, instead of being big government watchdogs, the liberal media are big government lap dogs. They wield their power to influence voters, not inform them!!
Lies . . . Distortions . . . character assassinations . . . blatant censorship . . . these are the tactics that the liberal media use to sway public opinion (and steal!) elections !!!..YOU THE PEOPLE, MUST THINK FOR YOURSELF !!!
I am in the airport twice a week and the situation is horrifying and embarrassing. There should be more exposure of that "randomizer" which basically does nothing and lets god-knows-who to pass through expedited security.
More than half the TSA I see in Ft Lauderdale are not in any shape to apprehend anyone if they tried to do something.
Why is the govt. not hiring more ex military personnel to run this department. All these kids return and are unemployed, and this is the perfect job for so many well trained, respectful men and women who are experts at efficiency and coordination.
I will not even start to write anything about Spirit or Silver Airways, because I will be writing all day, and never stop!! But I am literally quitting my job in Orlando because I cannot keep trying to use either of those alleged airlines any longer.
You are doing a great service! Keep it up!!!
The regular person needs someone that represents them, and understands them to be at all DOT meetings and this would be FlyersRights for me.
Not only do I believe that the TSA is inefficient and ineffective I have found them incompetent. I had a brand new blouse bought on vacation removed from my luggage at Logan International Airport. Upon contacting my airline I was informed that it was the TSA and it happens all the time. What? "Well they go through so many pieces of luggage at a time they forget who's they got what out of so they just put them in the next suitcase. My guess is so there is no prof of their sloppy inaccuracies.
Yet weapons are still getting through.
Do away with the lot and get a few dogs and put some of our returning veterans to work. I believe they would understand the perimeters and scope of their duty. L.M.
Last Wednesday I left my house in Florida at 4:30 a.m. for the Palm Beach airport. We got on the plane and it left the gate about ten minutes late at 7:10 a.m. We pushed back to be told by the pilot ten minutes later that the left engine would not start and were being towed back to the gate. They gave the most stupid excuse that there was humidity in the engine because it had sat over night, do you believe this? We were also told that we could not leave the aircraft as we may not be allowed back on again. Then he apologized for the delay telling us that there were no mechanics in Palm Beach and we had to wait for them to arrive.
We took off three hours later after never leaving the plane, consequently, many of us missed connections, including me. I was to fly to Boston and the next flight they could get me on was two and a half hours after landing in Newark. This turned into more than six hours as the crew apparently were on a rest period and when they eventually showed up we were told that the pilot had come in from Columbia and was stuck in customs. We eventually took off more than seven hours after my arrival from Palm Beach and not once did anyone come near us, no explanation, no meal vouchers and most definitely no apology.
I am a more than million miler with this airline and when I went to customer service I was rudely spoken too that there was only one line, nothing for the Elites and I walked away. Those people in customer service at Newark are not qualified to work as prison guards.
I despise United, I despise Smi'suck' and they now have the worse staff of any American airline flying today. I could say no more than I am totally horrified by our treatment and totally disgusted at what was once a good airline. Now it is definitely at the bottom of the barrel with the sediment and scum.
Regards and thank you for the great job you guys are doing. F.W.
Long time fan. But you lost me with wanting Mideast airlines in our market place. I suggest a 180.
We would be better off with Korean and other Asian airlines in our market for obvious reasons.
Last week coming into Denver on Southwest in the middle of a sizable and severe thunderstorm, we made two aborted landings and werel finally diverted to Colorado Springs. There as we refueled on the tarmac, I asked the pilot if those of us who wanted to could get off and get home on our own. He said he would check.
Minutes later he said yes and that he would get us stairs. But after some more minutes he announced that TSA had just told him that either everyone or no one could get off, not simply some of the passengers, "for security reasons."
The pilot said it didn't make sense to him. It didn't make sense to me either. What do you know about this rule? Is it really a rule or just a quick decision by local TSA agents?
Thanks for all you and FR do.
Never heard of it but who knows about TSA. I really doubt that is a rule and she might write TSA at tsa.gov and see what they say.
Please let us know when you receive an answer and what they tell you.
(Or it may be something to do with checked baggage being left on the plane after the passenger gets off. - Dan Prall, FlyersRights volunteer)
I've been a member of Flyers Rights almost from the beginning (I think...). Thank you for all your hard work and results the group has achieved!
Lately I subscribed to "Elliott's Forum"...a place to air customer relations issues...and the posts regarding American Airlines have me frightened about future flights with them. My wife and I have a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Holy Land this fall and I fear we'll get mistreated. Below is the latest post on the forum. The horror stories are almost endless...
I've always flown with AA (and used Hilton hotels) when traveling and have almost 2 million miles with AA, but this has me concerned!
I would say no better or worse than other airlines, in fact less of a chance of problems than with United or Spirit (the two most complained about). If they cannot take the chance of encountering a problem they probably should not fly. Perhaps they should consider flying on El Al. We have never had a complaint about them at all.
Plus I would have a problem with the complaint cited in Elliott's Forum. I would be really surprised if any airline gate agent would tell a pax that the flight was cancelled for not enough passengers. Even if it was true, which I doubt because they need the equipment at the other end, I really doubt they would admit it.
Just my 2 cents FYI.
Joel J Smiler DVM
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We are commited to solutions for promoting airline passenger policies that forward first and foremost the safety of all passengers while not imposing unrealistic economic burdens that adversely affect airline profitability or create exhorbitant ticket price increases.
All American air carriers shall abide by the following standards to ensure the safety, security and comfort of their passengers:
Establish procedures to respond to all passenger complaints within 24 hours and with appropriate resolution within 2 weeks.
Notify passengers within ten minutes of a delay of known diversions, delays and cancellations via airport overhead announcement, on aircraft announcement, and posting on airport television monitors.
Establish procedures for returning passengers to terminal gate when delays occur so that no plane sits on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a gate.
Provide for the essential needs of passengers during air- or ground-based delays of longer than 3 hours, including food, water, sanitary facilities, and access to medical attention.
Provide for the needs of disabled, elderly and special needs passengers by establishing procedures for assisting with the moving and retrieving of baggage, and the moving of passengers from one area of airport to another at all times by airline personnel.
Publish and update monthly on the company’s public web site a list of chronically delayed flights, meaning those flight delayed thirty minutes or more, at least forty percent of the time, during a single month.
Compensate “bumped” passengers or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of over 12 hours by refund of 150% of ticket price.
The formal implementation of a Passenger Review Committee, made up of non-airline executives and employees but rather passengers and consumers – that would have the formal ability to review and investigate complaints.
Make lowest fare information, schedules and itineraries, cancellation policies and frequent flyer program requirements available in an easily accessed location and updated in real-time.
Ensure that baggage is handled without delay or injury; if baggage is lost or misplaced, the airline shall notify customer of baggage status within 12 hours and provide compensation equal to current market value of baggage and its contents.
Require that these rights apply equally to all airline code-share partners including international partners.