Airlines in sneaky seat squeeze

BANGKOK, 3 August 2017: Passengers measuring leg room between airline seats is not a trendy habit in Asia, but apparently it’s a hot topic in the US.

CNN reported the squeeze on the typical airline seat made it all the way to a Congress hearing when the spotlight shone on how airlines have quietly eroded the centimetres between seat rows.

CNN reported that American Airlines is planning to squeeze in more seats on its new Boeing 737 Max aircraft due for introduction later this year. Apart shaving space between seat rows it may also introduce slim-fit  toilets.

Flyer Rights has been lobbying  Congress and the FAA for two years to take US airlines to task on shrinking space and new seats designed for Hobbits.

The fear is that American Airlines is setting a new industry standard, in the same manner that it pioneered the introduction of fees for all loaded baggage in 2008.

The airline failed to respond to questions by CNN and the Washington Post. This is the general response from airlines these days, marked in the PR bibles as a way to shut up the media. It is based on the belief that if you don’t comment the media goes away tail between its legs.

Not any more. Social media has resolved that issue as thousands of citizen journalists film candid videos, record comments and essentially release news by the minute free of charge to millions of viewers and readers.

According to the Washington Post, the average distance between seat rows on US aircraft has declined from 35 inches in the 1970s to about 31 inches since deregulation of the industry. Most recently studies suggest it is now around 28 inches.

The average width of a seat has also shrunk from 18 inches to 16 1/2 Now that is amazing since the average American has been religiously  gobbling down a fast food diet that has extended the average girth.

Airlines love to tell us we have never had it so good. Air fares are at their lowest in decades and airline travel is safer than ever. But is as comfortable in economy these days, the back-of-the bus where more than 70% of passengers dwell for flights across continents lasting up to 18 hours?

Never mind the long-haul flights the workhorse of regional fleets, Airbus 320s and Boeing 737s in Asia pack passengers in like sardines into can.


Airline passengers in Asia don’t have the benefit of FlyersRights that pursue the airlines waving regulations and reports that suggest we are not being treated fairly even if the fares have reached rock bottom.

But let’s move to Asian skies and ponder over seats and leg room. There is no standard and not a single government has bothered to consider our rights, or ponder over the health issues.

Public health authorities warn travellers that hours spent in cramped seating, especially in the dehydrating climes of an aircraft cabin, can lead to the formation of dangerous blood clots.

Deep vein thrombosis aggravated by airline travel can kill. And as planes become more crowded and cramped evacuation times in the event of an emergency will extend beyond the couple of minutes we have before the cabin ignites. has been petitioning the US FAA to create minimum standards and put a moratorium on reducing seats sizes since 2015. If the FAA did take the bait and came up a rule on seats and minimum legroom, there is a chance eventually it would impact on Asian airlines.

The actual real-time space available as far as I am concerned is not the theoretical seat pitch the airlines confuse us with, but the space available from the back of the seat pocket in front to the edge of your seat. If this is too narrow you spend the flight knees crammed under your chin. Or you are so restricted that you cannot eat a snack with the tray down if the passenger in front happens to recline their seat by just an inch.

I don’t carry a tape measure when flying ,but I do know that a typical airline magazine (A4 dimensions) is 297 mm long and 210 wide. Now next time you fly take the A4 mag and see if you can comfortably fit between the seat pocket in the row in front and the edge of your seat.

You will be hard pressed to squeeze the 11 inches of an A4 between the seats. So in reality the 28-inch pitch that airlines talk about is piffle.

If you have ever been sitting behind a passengers who needs to take a nap right after take off, then you appreciate that your inflight living space  becomes a  joke as the reclined seat wedges you in good and proper.

I would assume that every airline in Thailand has quietly reduced the space between seats over the years and the only hint is when the airline’s literature says its A320s seats 160 passengers plus.

We need consumer protection not only for flights that fail to materialise, but also for the seat squeeze that will continue as long as airlines harbour the view that we are cattle in transport.

(Sources: CNN, Washington Post)