Last updated: 03:00 PM ET, Fri April 01 2016

The Fight Continues Over Shrinking Airline Seats

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | April 01, 2016

The Fight Continues Over Shrinking Airline Seats

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

The shrinking size of airline seats is not a new story. People have always complained about being crammed into economy class. However, these are not complaints voiced by a few cranky fliers. Statistics actually show that the average seat size has shrunk by four centimeters in the past 20 years.

Concerns about shrinking seat size

Even authorities admit that there is trend of smaller and smaller seats. Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation actually enlisted a consumer advisory group to study whether smaller seats presented any dangers to fliers. The group looked at all sorts of issues, from deep vein thrombosis to the idea that more seats would make evacuations more difficult in case of emergency.

Other experts have voiced concern about a number of issues that could come up in such cramped quarters. Problems like increased instances of air rage and even sexual assault have been mentioned in arguments against smaller seats. However, no one has been able to prove a link between seat size and any of these problems. 

READ MORE: Will a US Rep. Successfully Halt the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat?

Airlines claim that they are giving people what they want

Airlines always have the same response to seat-size complaints. They are trying to cram more seats into airplanes because that is what customers want. People would rather have cheaper flights than more expensive, but more comfortable, flights. In other words, for most fliers getting to a destination cheaply outweighs getting to a destination comfortably.

It is a simple equation: more seats in an airplane means that airlines can change less per seat. According to them, that is what people really want.

Hawaiian legislators pass small-seat resolution

The latest effort in the fight against shrinking seats comes from Hawaii. A group of state senators have pushed for a resolution that would urge the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to set a minimum size for airline seats. The resolution was passed in two different committees.

READ MORE: How Airlines Are Getting Creative in Squeezing More Passengers into Planes

Clarence Nishihara, the chair of the state's Public Safety committee didn’t mince words, saying "they’re packing more and more people into the aircraft… They’re just stuck like cattle.”

No change likely

Trade organization Airlines for America, which represents most major U.S. airlines, says that airlines do offer more room… for people who are willing to pay for it. A4A vice president David Berg responded to the Hawaii resolution by pointing this out: “Airlines already offer varied products within each aircraft at different price points. If an individual desires more leg room there is a product for that. Customers should decide what space they want, not the federal government.”

No matter how small seats get, it is hard to argue against that logic. Airlines won’t stop the small-seat trend until passengers stop buying tickets because cabins have become too cramped.

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