If you are a typical economy fare flier, the airlines have come up with many ways to aggravate you over the years:

  • Want to check a bag? Pay a fee.
  • Want a meal? Buy it before you board the plane.
  • Want a window seat? Pay an extra fee.
  • Want a little extra leg room? Pay a fee.
  • Want to board a little early to be sure there’s room for a carry on? Pay a fee.

What’s the latest inconvenience to add to this list? According to the Wall Street Journal, it is “The Incredible Shrinking Plane Seat.” As Jon Ostrower and Daniel Michaels report:

“Airlines’ push to lure high-paying fliers with flatbed business seats and premium economy loungers is leaving economy-class passengers with less space. A push over the past decade by carriers to expand higher-fare sections has shrunk the area devoted to coach on many big jets. But airlines don’t want to drop passengers. First they slimmed seats to add more rows. Now, big carriers including American Airlines, Air Canada, Air France-KLM, and Dubai’s Emirates Airline are cutting shoulder space by wedging an extra seat into each coach row. For almost 20 years, the standard economy setup in a Boeing 777 was 9 seats per row. But last year, nearly 70% of its biggest version of the plane had 10-abreast seating, up from 15% in 2010.”

Click the WSJ graphic to read more.

Graphic by Carlos Tovar/Wall Street Journal


24 Replies to “The Airlines Find Yet Another Way to Annoy Us”

  1. This is certainly an annoyance but it is in no way surprised. The airlines have been steadily making life worse on planes for years, as noted in the post, and they promise to continue to do so if they can make an extra dollar. In many ways this is a great business model because in many cases paying extra fees in unavoidable. For example if two parents are with a child, they are not going to separate because one of the seats will have to be an aisle seat. They will pay the extra money because they have no choice, rewarding the airline for this predatory maneuver. Shrinking seats is something that many businesses with limited capacities have begun doing. I have seen sports and entertainment venues shrink seats, especially the cheaper ones, as a way to increase capacity and to reward the customers willing to spend the extra buck. This model seems to have carried over to the airlines, as I am sure the first class sections do not have 10 seats per row…I hope I am not flying in the near future.

    1. Nobody has addressed the main driver of this, which is historically poor airline profitability. Airlines are simply trying to make a profit, and can’t afford to give away food, cargo space that they can sell, etc. If I go to see the Cardinals, I am not entitled to a “free” hotdog and a beer, nor should I expect the stadium to warehouse my luggage and retrieve it after the game!
      Of course if I can fly an airline with fewer fees (and a freq flyer program I can actually use) I will, but I get more worked up about the outrageous charges for changing a reservation. My suggestion to the airlines would be to offer the (slightly) larger seats at a reasonable premium like 10-15%, rather than something idiotic like double or triple the economy fare. Give us some real options at a good value.
      Actually the #1 disincentive to fly is the chance and severity of a delay….airlines booked to capacity have no options for re-routing passengers quickly after a delay. This has gotten much worse – because airlines fly with full planes, and they have no extra planes if one has a breakdown. The airlines who win loyalty will be the ones who can increase their on-time record, but the consumer must be willing to pay more for an airline that has excess capacity.

  2. Just as many big businesses do, it isn’t surprising that airlines are trying to get the most out of each of their planes by sacrificing the customer’s needs. Personally, I believe that there should be a minimum amount of space dictated by law for commercial airlines-preferably 18 inches. Considering that the seating in a stadium is more comfortable than that in an airline, things definitely need to change. It’s a socioeconomic responsibility for the business to take into account the needs of the flyers and not just the firm’s personal needs.

  3. Airline businesses will do whatever they can just to squeeze a few extra dollars from their customers, as seen from the measures they take in the above post. Not only are customers stuck paying bag fees and window seat fees, but now we must compromise on a smaller seat. I have been flying on planes since I was 10 months old and I have seen the drastic difference airlines have made over the years. If you wanted an extra blanket or pillow, you wouldn’t be charged for it. That can of soda wouldn’t be $5. Businesses are ignoring their customers needs just to see a bigger increase in their profits.

    I understand that airlines want to appeal to the high paying customer in first class, but it should not come at the expense of making coach seats impossible to sit in on a 10 hour international flight.

  4. I don’t see why it would be such a complaint to add extra seats. Why not get more people on a plane? You have more of a chance of getting a seat! I see why people may be unhappy with paying a high amount which airline tickets are, and not being comfortable. But hey, if you’re so unhappy, pay more and get yourself up to first class! You can lounge all you want there and you can stop complaining about how uncomfortable you are. The only thing I can see what’s wrong here, is possibly a safety issue, but besides that, I think it would be a great idea to add an extra seat!

  5. This article hits a nerve. I am from California and since I’m going to Hofstra, I obviously fly frequently….unfortunately. I absolutely hate flying. From the extreme cost (up to $400 and close to $600 during holidays) to the fee that accompanies literally everything related to the flight (checking bags, overweight bags, food on the plane, etc.) to having to go through airport security (do I really have to take off my shoes?), flying frequently isn’t easy. I sit in an airplane seat for 6 hours and now airline companies want to make that another annoyance? Really? Come on! This is obviously another effort for the airlines to make more and more money. By making the plane seats smaller, they could stuff more passengers (= $$$). The airlines will also make more profits from flyers who upgrade from the very small economy seats to the emergency row or business class seats with more leg room (= $$$). Since I am a college student, I’m not going to have that option. And thus, my future in flying isn’t looking up. Great.

  6. As someone who flies every couple of years, I honestly was starting to think I was getting significantly larger and not that the seats were getting smaller! It’s surprising to see a negative change to airplanes after all the years of operation with the standard 9 seats. The isles are so small that they can barely fit the food and beverage cart down them. It’s shocking to see how much they don’t care about all of their clients. I highly doubt their overweight customers will even begin to feel comfortable during flight. Their next inconvenience is going to be making the bathroom smaller to fit an extra row of seats.

  7. This is so true. I barely take planes in China so I honestly don’t know and dont remember what planes are like in China now. But every time when I take a plane from China to USA or the other way around, no matter it is Delta, Swiss, Singapore or AA, I never could get enough space! I couldn’t stretch my legs and I even didn’t have enough personal space. I could easily reach to my neighbors by just slightly opening my arms. Personally speaking, I would rather pay a little bit higher price for a comfortable price than paying less thus getting an awful flight. Despite all the complaint, is it really safe to squeeze the space and put more seats in a plane? Shouldn’t a plane have a set number of weight it can carry? What if the plane carries too much weight and put customers lives in danger? I think there should be laws that regulate the seat numbers based on different types of planes. It’s more comfortable and it’s safer. Not every person is able to pay for 1st class especially for international flight.

  8. Although I see where airlines are coming from, I think this is going to harm the major airlines in the end. People will still have to fly to get places they need to go, but they may decide to now chose the super saver airlines because it has become a better deal and the major airlines aren’t worth all the extra fees. It will also begin to decrease leisure travel as middle class families won’t be able to afford all the fees and high prices. It could also in a way hurt the international market because companies may begin to do more business at home, to afford all the hassle of the travel (a bit far fetched I know). As travel is something in my life I live for, this is very sad to see. I hope that airlines realize how they are harming the consumer, because it is going to make for a lot more consumer complaints and dissatisfaction.

  9. It doesn’t surprise me that airplanes are trying to rearrange their seating to fit more people onto each plane. They are a business and like any other business want to make a profit. On the other hand though being a business it is very important to earn customer satisfaction so you can acquire loyal customers and a good reputation. By making the seats smaller many customers will be unpleased and therefore spread a negative image of the airline. So yes, the airline could make a profit from the extra seats but is it worth ignoring their socioeconomic responsibility and causing the dissatisfaction of their customers?

  10. With all the commercials I’ve seen about the new, bigger, and flat-lying first class chairs aboard planes, I always figured there had to be a catch to it. And now it’s clear. Every business always tries to find ways to maximize their profits and the airline industry is no different. Instead of increasing the size of their chairs in first class and sacrificing losing space in coach, they just added more chairs in coach to make up for lost room in first class and to further annoy the people who can only afford to fly coach. As if there wasn’t enough room in the coach seats before, now problem is even worse. But as long as the airline companies can squeeze as much profit out of people as they can, unfortunately, they don’t see a down side to this change.

  11. Although it is unsurprising that airlines are finding ways to charge people for everything, somethings shouldn’t be messed with, such as adding an extra seat into rows. As a frequent flier, I understand how uncomfortable normal airline seats are. For short flights, a 17 inch seat wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but a cross country flight, or, god forbid, a 20+ hour flight in a seat that small, would be brutal. I agree completely with Kristen that there should be a law forcing airlines to at least provide 18 inch seats for their customers. There’s a difference between charging people for unnecessary but desired comforts and something as basic as having the room to fit into a chair comfortably.

  12. Well this is not good. Being a frequent flyer myself (I fly about 8-12 times a year) this sounds absolutely horrible. I can understand airlines wanting to be able to fly as many people as possible but there is a certain point where it’s just too uncomfortable to travel like this. What bothers me the most about this idea of adding another seat to a row is that it increases the number of middle seats. I always try to be in an aisle seat and then if that’s absolutely not possible maybe a window (but NEVER the middle) and with less space I can’t even imagine how hard it’s going to be just to put on or take off a sweatshirt, this is something i have trouble doing anyways because I’m always concerned with punching my neighbor in the face by accident. Flying has become so expensive anyway I wonder if making these travels more uncomfortable people will cut back on traveling this way if they can. Until then I’ll continue to push my way to the front of the line for the last group of people to board the plane and hope there is room for me and my stuff.

  13. This is pretty disappointing to read, however I am not surprised. As stated, airlines have been increasing fares and fees for all kinds of additional services for years. Just like any other business, airlines are competing to make big money! Not to stereotype, but I feel awful for any flying customers who might be overweight! Shrinking the seat size to 17 inches not only makes it uncomfortable for the average sized traveler, but also those who are larger! They might feel even more claustrophobic than usual on flights! In order to compensate for this, they might have to purchase another seat for the extra room or upgrade to first class in order to fly comfortably. Hopefully the addition of more seats on airplanes doesn’t cause any major safety concerns! Nowadays anyone will go to the extreme in order to make extra money.

  14. What worries me more is not the incredible shrinking airline chairs, but rather that most people will either not notice these changes and continue to remain silent. This is not a good example of the consumer bill of rights. People have no real say in what Boeing or Airbus decide to do for the chair sizes. This means no voice. Because there are only two real choices too this also means little to no choice. Planes are very safe so out of the four categories I would rate airlines a 1.5 out of 4 against the consumer bill of rights.

  15. It almost seems as though they are trying to make people so uncomfortable that they will be forced to upgrade to higher seating. By giving the option of fees for extra space and luxury seating options, and increasingly uncomfortable coach seating, they are almost forcing passengers to upgrade. This is highly unfair and not right in that flying is a high expense for most people. On extremely long flights such small seating could cause large issues. Being 6’3” myself, it is already very difficult to fit into such a confined space. As a frequent flyer, as my mother is an airline stewardess, I have noticed the increasingly uncomfortable coach accommodations.

  16. Money Money Money, the almighty dollar. That’s what I think this whole thing comes down to. As you established in your open, It seems like just another way to piss off people that want to fly somewhere, but really it is just their desire to gain more money on more flights, and hey what’s the one way you can get out of the inconvenience of having to share coach with more passengers with this change? Flying first class or a class above coach by paying more money. From a business perspective I don’t think this is really a bad idea because it allows the airlines to accumulate more money by now booking even more passengers on a flight, and possibly even gaining more takers for higher priced tickets. However for us passengers its a complete pain in the you know what. Unfortunately it seems like until there is a quicker way to get to national or international destinations other than flying…we’re not in much luck and are at the mercy of the airlines.

  17. In the eyes of the airline it is a smart move I think on their part. With gas prices increasing steadily they need to be able to keep earning a profit with all the expenses they incur. There are many employees that they have to pay, and in order to keep up with the expenses they have to keep raising prices. From the point of view of the passenger however, the drastically increasing prices for flying are getting to be too high for some families to afford. Now instead of flying every where people prefer to drive. This is because of all the new extra fees added on, and the fact that flying is no longer becoming something that is convenient rather it is becoming a pain. It is also hard when you are flying international and flying is really the only choice you have to travel, and they charge you extra for a carry on and the extra room which is most of the time needed on a long flight.

  18. I’m surprised that so many people above the age of 65 engage in social media, considering the common conception that older people have a distaste for sites like Facebook and Twitter. Apparently, that is not true. Also, something that surprised me was that there was not such a discrepancy between urban and rural users of social media. I would have expected it to be a more urban and suburban activity, but apparently it has spread so much that even in highly rural areas, the majority of people engage in social media. That was probably the most interesting statistic in this infographic.

  19. This is honestly sad to me. This almost reminds me of when I went to Six Flags over the Summer and I saw that many people who were larger boned or heavier could not go on most of the rides because the seats only had about 18 inches of seat space. This is almost the same thing because these airlines do not take in to account the heavier individuals who received no pre-conceived notion that they might not fit in to the seat, or to those who might have to sit next to a person who can’t fit in to their own seat. The problem is that airplanes are trying to make more money off of us, but are limiting their customers to those who can fit in these 17 inch seats. I think it is horrible marketing in the sense that sooner or later airlines are going to be a source of transportation for “skinny people.” It is horrible that if you consider adding 1 seat to each row in the airplane, you are only adding about 20 to 30 seats on the airplane, having each airplane make about 2-3 grand more than they normally would. You would think that airplanes would consider the fact that the extra thousands they make in such a large industry might not make up for the unhappy customers they are going to have. They aren’t thinking in the long term.

  20. I am a little mad reading this post because they really do charge for every little thing. You would think the only thing you have left is not a lot but a decent amount of room in your airplane seats, now even that is unfortunately being taking away. The next thing they are going to get rid of is their customers because no one is going to want to sit in a 17 inch seat. Plus what will happen to heavier set people, some people can’t fit in the seat as it is and if it gets smaller do they have to buy two tickets? It may be a smart short term idea but when you thing long term this idea won’t have much success

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