Are Shrinking Airplane Seats Really Killing Us?

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If it seems like airplane seats are getting smaller, it’s not your imagination. They are. The most common measurement of airplane seats is pitch– the distance from any point in one seat to the exact same point in the seat next to it. The average pitch on airplane seats in the 1970s was 35 inches, to 32-33 inches in the 1990s, and now to as little as 31 inches on some planes. Before you cancel your next vacation, here a few reasons that narrowing seat pitch isn’t all bad news:

  1. Seating technology has been streamlined.
    On modern planes, industrial textile manufacturers have developed seating suspension systems that cut down on extra bulk without ruining safety and comfort. Old airline seats required a bulky metal pan that was masked with layers of foam and heavy upholstery seat fabrics; the seat suspension technology that industrial textile manufacturers make now utilizes ergonomic designs to improve comfort while reducing the weight by 8-12 pounds per seat. This saves on space and fuel costs, which rolls down to reduced ticketing prices.

    Surveys show that ticket price is the biggest priority that travelers consider when booking a flight. The new seat design that industrial textile manufacturers make now is technically smaller, but the space that is saved is space that was not being utilized by anyone except the metal seat pan anyways, meanwhile there are less overhead costs include in your ticket price.

  2. Your legroom hasn’t changed.
    According to Boeing’s patented “Personal Space Model,” 60% of a passenger’s comfort is dependent on having adequate leg space. Between slimmer seats and narrower arm rests, the seats’ pitch might be reduced, but the space for your feet is the same or better. Before you object to this claim, let’s think it through. The old, bulky seat designs were three or four inches thicker than the new, dense seat backs. Also, the tray table and pocket in the seat in front have been adjusted so that passengers can optimize all of the space in front of them for comfort. This allows the airplane to hold more seats without reducing your legroom, which comes back around to reduced ticket costs; our biggest concern.
  3. Keeping the space where it matters.
    When Boeing designed the 777 jet family, they added five inches in width so that seats could be at least 18.5 inches wide which ensures passenger comfort. They also extended the cabin height by two inches and adjusted the shape of the overhead luggage compartment, so that our carry-on baggage can be stored away and we still have a sense of spaciousness for our journey. Studies showed that when the luggage compartment was inches from the passenger’s face, they developed a sense of claustrophobia, which made the entire personal space feel cramped.
  4. If space matters more than money.
    If you would rather be able to stretch out on your flight than save some bucks, here are some tips for getting the most space for your money:

    • Some airlines offer open seating and for a small fee you can get priority boarding. If you’re the first one on the plane, look for a seat at the front or emergency exit, where you have more leg room and no chance of the seat in front of you reclining.
    • Use airlines with larger seats. A quick Google search will tell you which airlines have greater seat pitch.
    • Request a cheap last-minute upgrade. This might not always work, but you’ll be glad you asked if it does!

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