Is flying coach too cramped to be safe?
September 14, 2017 8:58 AM   Subscribe

For years the airlines have been allowed to steadily shrink the size of coach class seats and the space between seat rows without regulators considering the impact of this on safety. In a case brought by the non-profit activist group Flyers Rights and heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a judge said there was “a plausible life-and-death safety concern” about what is called the “densification” of seats in coach. The court ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to respond to a petition filed by Flyers Rights to promulgate new rules to deal with safety issues created by shrinking seat sizes and space in coach class cabins.
posted by Emmy Rae (92 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
17 hours. That's how far I have to drive before flying is more convenient. I don't mind driving, but really, as a 6'4" man with shoulders 25 inches across, a 17inch wide seat aint gonna cut it. And with a 37" inseam, absent a hinge in my femur, the seats are too close together for me to sit without lavaballing.

But, really, it isn't just airlines. Busses are similarly uncomfortable and unwelcoming - but at least they don't pornoscan you and dig through your baggage and steal that really great small batch beer you were looking forward to sharing with friends.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:13 AM on September 14 [39 favorites]


I am an average sized American woman and an extremely frequent flier. I have recently been on planes where I could barely get into the seat because the rows were so close together, and also could barely fit my ass into the seat. Again, I am not a large person. Last time I had a window seat and in the middle was an average sized man who spent the whole flight carefully squinching his elbows in so he wouldn't hit either me or the other average-sized man on the other side, and this is just something from the last two weeks. It's quite unpleasant and becoming more common.

I hope this suit succeeds.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:19 AM on September 14 [35 favorites]


One of the minor but fucking delightful things about being married to, and mostly traveling with, my wife is that she is a very fine-boned 95 pounds and willing to always take the middle seat. I am a not-fine-boned weightlifter with a set of shoulders - this is increasingly the only thing that makes travel bearable. (And yeah, I'm 5'6" with stubby legs, and *my* knees regularly hit the seat in front of me. I don't know how even average-height guys do it.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:30 AM on September 14 [9 favorites]


I've always wondered about this sort of thing, especially if they're getting away with it by double counting the under seat storage as legroom or whatever.
posted by Lykosidae at 9:31 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


I've only had two fits of claustrophobia in my life. One was in a crowded Ikea and the other was in a small Air Berlin jet waiting and waiting for a gate to open up. This is a great place for regulation. If the airlines can't compete to make things smaller and more crowded maybe they will compete to make things more comfortable.
posted by Bee'sWing at 9:33 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


That article really goes all over the place. The examples given don't really provide a good argument that the 737 is inherently more dangerous in a crash than the 777. There definitely are valid criticisms of the 737 and the age of its design, but throwing that in this article seemed kind of tangential to the point.

I also think the criticism of how evacuation testing is performed is a little misplaced. The author doesn't seem to understand how tests are developed and the limitations of how they can be executed. I mean, what does the author want to see happen? Boeing kidnaps 200 people and marches them blindfolded on to a plane, only to light it on fire and tell them to get out on to a bed of broken glass? As testers, we are constrained by the availability of hardware, location, and volunteers, and it's very difficult to design tests that have a good correlation to reality.

Crash testing on aircraft is fairly different from cars. Large airplanes do not come to a sudden, complete stop like a car will, which is why you're still only wearing a lap belt on the plane. 16g of acceleration is quite a lot, but it's over a period of seconds rather than milliseconds, and that really does make a lot of difference. On the other hand, I do agree that seat pitches are getting a little ridiculous - I, a 5'7" male, am incapable of getting in to brace position because of the seat in front of me.

If you want to be safer on an airplane, I suggest the following:
-Anything that can become a projectile should be put away under the seat or in the overhead for takeoff and landing.
-Don't wear headphones during taxi, takeoff, or landing. Listen to what's going on around you.
-Sit properly in the seat, back against the back rest, feet on the floor.
-Wear shoes with laces.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:34 AM on September 14 [16 favorites]


Yeah, this is another place where "market competition" is driving a race to the bottom that no one likes, and if regulations forbade it, everyone would be happier.

More regulations please!
posted by elizilla at 9:36 AM on September 14 [51 favorites]


When you bring up how cramped the seats are and how bad the flying experience is, the counterargument usually is: the market ruled here; people want to pay the least possible and they're getting the least possible, and if they wanted bigger seats, they could go to a competitor.

But what really competes with flying? What gets you where you need to go in anything like the time? There's only one real competitor: an Amtrak between cities on the Northeast Corridor, and that adds 2 to 10 hours to your travel time. Long-distance buses between big cities can be okay, but they take even longer, and things get weird and unreliable if you're trying to transfer buses or travel through the night. If you want to get somewhere a long way away in a hurry, the airlines have you over a barrel, and they will act accordingly for the foreseeable future.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:36 AM on September 14 [17 favorites]


Also, with air travel, competition is limited, because with every airline you basically have to pick between first class and steerage. (There's an "Even More Room" upgrade for some economy seats, to which I have reacted as to a flat insult, so to be honest I have never tried that.)
posted by Countess Elena at 9:40 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


17 hours. That's how far I have to drive before flying is more convenient

My cutoff is usually 10 hours, as described in this comment, but that's a minimum, so I totally get where you're coming from.
posted by TedW at 9:40 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


an Amtrak between cities on the Northeast Corridor, and that adds 2 to 10 hours to your travel time.

Well... I used to regularly travel between Providence and Philadelphia, which is maybe half the length of the NE Corridor, and it timed out to almost the same time -- the flight was faster, but only the flight portion: getting to the airport, passing security, waiting around for the flight, boarding, texting, and so on time enough extra time that it was more or less a wash.

Of course, not everyone is on a rail corridor, so getting to and from the lines adds a bunch of time, but it worked for me.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:45 AM on September 14 [6 favorites]




I used to take the Amtrak from North Carolina to Washington DC and it was also exactly the same as driving. I really miss that convenience now that I live in Ohio.
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:57 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


DOT documents reveal that testing seatbacks equipped with video screens for blunt trauma impact destroyed so many of the expensive screens that the FAA allowed the manufacturers to substitute cheaper replicas.

So they're not even testing to show whether the actual screens are dangerous in a crash, because that would make the poor airlines even poorer?

Glad this is going forward. People are not cargo, and treating us like it - while visibly piling amenities onto the people who pay more - is disgusting. I don't know whether a safety lawsuit has a shot of getting anywhere. But nothing else seems to stop them.

Not that I have faith in the court system anymore, either.

But for schadenfreudy laughs, I still recommend the WOWair reviews site.
posted by Mchelly at 10:00 AM on September 14 [12 favorites]


In-flight amenities will still include the breathable pressurized air United is known for.
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:10 AM on September 14 [16 favorites]


Well... I used to regularly travel between Providence and Philadelphia, which is maybe half the length of the NE Corridor, and it timed out to almost the same time

False. As the Philadelphia airport is actually hell, time spent there is infinite. You're still there, and prayers for you to escape your torment are ineffective.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:10 AM on September 14 [51 favorites]


This... explains so much.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:23 AM on September 14 [11 favorites]


backseatpilot, your suggestions for airplane safety are not actually practical. I am short enough at 5' 4" that I often cannot put both feet fully on the floor, and trying to do it makes my joints hurt worse than they already do. In summer, I wear sandals because overheating on an airplane for me means vomiting. I wear headphones to avoid hearing damage and to minimize having to listen to other people's conversations and screaming children. I often get whatever I need for the flight out as soon as I sit down and hold onto it because once other people sit in the same aisle, I will not have space to reach into my bag, let alone dig for something at the bottom of it.

It's nice that you think these suggestions would solve many problems, but to me they miss the realities of frequent travel in cramped conditions entirely.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:25 AM on September 14 [22 favorites]


backseatpilot: "There definitely are valid criticisms of the 737 and the age of its design, but throwing that in this article seemed kind of tangential to the point."

[citation-needed] -- The 737 is a 50-year-old design that has received a steady flow of incremental updates over its lifetime. It's a very proven design that has undergone a lot of refinements. Its longevity and popularity have arguably made it one of the safest planes to fly on -- you won't find another aircraft that is intimately-familiar to more pilots, mechanics, airlines, or regulators.

The 737 is a very compelling case for incrementalism in engineering.
posted by schmod at 10:29 AM on September 14 [10 favorites]


Let me now plug Canadian commuter carrier Porter Airlines. They recently discontinued nonstop service between PIT and Toronto and I am gutted, because their planes are super roomy and cush, you get complimentary food and beverages (yes, even alcohol!) in all classes, and they fly in to Toronto City airport so you're in downtown as soon as you step off the plane. They are a delight and I am very cranky about my fellow Pittsburghers' apparent disinterest in enjoying all that Canadaland has to offer.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:34 AM on September 14 [8 favorites]


And the Porter Lounge at Toronto Island is a wonderful place to sit and wait. Great people watching, comfortable seats with side tables and lamps, free snacks. If I lived in Toronto I'd probably try and find a way to squat there.

I too have grown concerned over the fact that you can no longer assume the brace position of lowering your head unless you are quite short because the seats are too close.

Accident survival studies have shown that doing this is a major predictor of survival in serious airplane crashes and it is the only one that is really under passenger control.

You also can't bend over to puke in a barf bag.
posted by srboisvert at 10:53 AM on September 14 [7 favorites]


6'2", 250lbs, broad shoulders, excess weight mostly in front (belly), no fat on hips. The last time I flew coach was with Virgin to London and the flight wasn't completely full. The rows were so crammed I had trouble getting my feet down on the floor. Basically my knees were wedged against the seat in front of me at all times causing strain and pain in the joints. That was before the seat in front of me reclined.

Surprisingly there was open emergency exit seats a few rows up by the wall and so I asked a stewardess that walked by if I could sit there. She looked me over and said: "well, you can try...". So I did. Turns out those seats had fixed armrests and they were narrower than my goddamn hip bones. I could literally not fit into those seats.

The trip was such a torture and left me in pain and discomfort for days, that, on the return leg, I upgraded to Economy Plus at the airport, which cost me a grand, which I didn't have and which I put on my credit card. Now I'm just not flying anymore unless I can afford the upgrade. Which is rarely the case.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:07 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


Now I'm just not flying anymore unless I can afford the upgrade. Which is rarely the case.

Same. Fortunately, my job doesn't require me to fly. Attending conferences is something I can optionally do, but it's not a requirement. So I only do one big trip a year, to visit my folks about 12 hours away, so I can afford to upgrade myself to first class for that.

If I had to fly often enough that I couldn't afford to do it first class, I don't know what I'd do. Die of a pulmonary embolism caused by deep vein thrombosis, maybe?
posted by tobascodagama at 11:23 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I seriously don't know if I could evacuate in a timely manner from a coach seat. I usually wait to be the last off the plane because it takes that long for feeling to return to my legs after they've been jammed up against the seat in front of me for the duration of the flight. At least the numbness is preferable to the pain that I get when the jerkface in front of me keeps slamming their entire weight against my knees over and over.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:32 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I am a small person. I am 5'4. My shoulders are an inch broader than a "standard" fit model's of my size.
I run pretty much to the edges of my back seat rest, and have a few inches of space in the seat area. So I should be comfortable. Except that I'm not BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE IS SPILLING INTO MY SEAT. And getting anything from the seat underneath me is a terrible contortion, punctuated by the fear that someone will recline when I lean down and give me a spinal injury.

So it sucks for those of us in the other percentile too. No one is comfortable in these things except maybe the people in the luxury pods.
posted by Hypatia at 11:45 AM on September 14 [8 favorites]


I'm 6'4" and can echo the other tall people's complaints. I've been seeing airlines selling seats with more legroom as an upgrade - asking me to pay $40/per flight just to get legroom that shorter people get for "free". I had the (legally silly) idea that being tall should be a protected class for air travel - I can't do anything about their seat pitch. Giving me a free exit row seat upgrade seems to be a reasonable accommodation.
posted by caphector at 11:49 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


But what really competes with flying? What gets you where you need to go in anything like the time?

The "competition" is not going somewhere when going somewhere is on the spectrum of "optional".

Would I, personally, be fine with paying extra money for larger seats? Sure. But I have the financial means, I'm only paying for a single ticket, and every person in my family I'd want to visit happens to live in the same NYC borough as me.

I'd
certainly be happier with regulations increasing seat size, but higher ticket prices would certainly be a burden for many people.
posted by lalex at 11:52 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Basically my knees were wedged against the seat in front of me at all times causing strain and pain in the joints. That was before the seat in front of me reclined.

Barring an increase in seat spacing, I think at a bare minimum the reclining function of airplane seats should now be permanently disabled.
posted by fairmettle at 12:05 PM on September 14 [33 favorites]


A couple of months ago I had an older man right in front of me recline the seat just as the fasten seat belts sign was turned off. Not only did he just barely miss hitting me in the head, I also could not get my bag until the person next to me got up. It was one of the rudest things I have had someone do to me on a plane, second only to the couple with the infant who made me sit between them and then had an argument over me when the kid started screaming because daddy had put essential baby stuff into an overhead bin several seats ahead.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:31 PM on September 14 [5 favorites]


...the reclining function of airplane seats should now be permanently disabled.

Noooooooo!
I certainly understand the hate on reclining, but my back starts killing me if I can't recline for 5-10 minutes every hour or so, or get up and stand. It's impossible to stand up at your seat, and it's the shits for everyone in the row if the window or middle person needs to get out. Don't hate the sad reclining people, hate the frickin' airlines that have crap seats and no room to stretch or get up.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:36 PM on September 14 [14 favorites]


yeah, I never do it because I find it uncomfortable, but reclining one's seat isn't rude.
posted by lalex at 12:37 PM on September 14 [7 favorites]


Another tall person here - a lot of my friends are keen travelers, and have visited loads of countries, and I haven't been further than Austria. They wax lyrical abut travel and ask why I don't - and it's because it physically hurts. While I agree with the above comment about some of the parts of the evacuation testing being necessarily false, rather than actually setting an aircraft on fire, I do think that being in that sort of pain (and once totally numb feet) would seriously affect evacuation. Do they do evacuation drills after having people sat in their seats for two hours first?
posted by Vortisaur at 12:38 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Didn't I read something once that testing airplane evacuations was basically impossible, because everyone was polite and patient. So they got a bunch of people, and offered a cash prize to whoever could get off the plane first (or under a time limit?), and the ensuing meleé was...most instructive.

Ah, yes, here we go! Scroll down to where it says "Giving monetary incentives to participants reduced the time required for egress" -- discreet cough:
In this study, the 'competitive' group were offered a financial bonus of $50 to be among the first 25% passengers to evacuate the arcraft. However, the passengers in the competitve trials
...(became) more aggressive and climbing over seats, outmaneuvering other passengers, etc. to get out quickly.
resulting in broken over seat backs, among others. I suspect participant safety is the main reason FAA doesn't offer any incentives duing demonstration.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:38 PM on September 14 [17 favorites]


I don't believe the argument that free market would solve this problem, although, for my employer's money, I always try to choose the airline that provides marginally more comfort (Brussels Airlines over Austrian). BUT. These two historically serve my route with quite a number of flights, yet I still sometimes need to fly the worse one.

Aviation will never be a true free market for one reason - the costs and safety standards are prohibitive, and so companies naturally carve the market.

I hesitate to endorse regulation in this case, but being a 1.90m guy (not very tall in Europe anymore), I really suffer in the middle seat and on Spanish airlines (they have denser seat spacing, for some reason).

In this case, I don't believe people can fully exercise their free choice - if you need to fly somewhere and the only carrier flying there is a crappy one, you're screwed.

One other thing I often complain about to the airlines is trolley suitcases in the cabin. This epidemic is even worse than seat spacing, because it literally fills every empty cubic cm in the cabin with someone's luggage.
posted by Laotic at 12:40 PM on September 14 [3 favorites]


I am five-foot-nothing, and even if I sit according to backseatpilot's 'proper' definition,
1) my feet don't reach the floor;
2) my knees are crushed up against the seat back in front of me;
3) even if there was no one else around it is extremely difficult to get into or out of a row of seats: even the aisle seat is difficult to access; and
4) it is impossible for me to assume the crash position.

All of which is why I'm currently contemplating whether going coast-to-coast on Amtrak (three days each way and with a considerably higher price) might not be the more sensible option than a five-hour flight that includes free porno scanners and deep-vein thrombosis.
posted by easily confused at 12:41 PM on September 14 [6 favorites]


Ungh. We were on one of British Airways new giant Airbuses from Boston to London and it was cramped torture. I was on the window seat and there was a little metal box bolted down under the seat ahead of me that prevented me from ever placing my foot flat on the ground.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:43 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


> robocop is bleeding, I use SeatGuru for longer flights to specifically choose a seat with has more leg room.
posted by Laotic at 12:46 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't disable reclining, but I'd make it so you and the person behind you both had to push the button to make it happen. That way, nobody would get an adult's weight covered with a hard plastic shell slammed hard and fast against their kneecaps with no warning. And the motion would be slow and controlled.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:56 PM on September 14 [8 favorites]


No reclining except when they are closing windows and turning off the cabin lights for at least 4 hours and most passengers are likely to try to sleep. Maybe a couple inches would be OK but not more.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:01 PM on September 14 [5 favorites]


I am soooo lucky. 6'1", 195 lbs, frequent low rate chicken shit third tier airline flier, and yeah, it's not great, but I do not have any issues y'all have. Sure, it's vaguely irritating/uncomfortable/unpleasant, but three more inches of leg room won't solve that, the extra couple hundred bucks I have in my pocket at my destination will however.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:02 PM on September 14


size is not the only issue of course. I have bone spurs and arthritis in both hip joints and a longer flight can leave me temporarily disabled with pain and impingement. if I could extend my legs for at least part of the time it would help. I might be ready to get stacked like cordwood!
posted by supermedusa at 1:06 PM on September 14 [4 favorites]


The other frustrating thing about those "more room" seats is that they only improve the legroom. The only way to get additional width is to purchase first class tickets.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:15 PM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Is the price of those "extra legroom"/"economy plus" seats a rough approximation for what flights would cost if that level of space were mandatory? If so, while I generally appreciate the idea of more space, I'd say my displayed preference (and that of most others) is cheaper tickets/less space and, when it comes to comfort, I'd rather keep prices low and allow those who have other priorities to pay the price for other classes as they wish. When it comes to safety, though (and I realize this is what the FPP is about) I think new FAA regulations are perfectly appropriate and I'm glad there are people keeping a close eye on that.
posted by mosst at 1:25 PM on September 14 [4 favorites]


TBH, I probably would be more comfortable lying prone for 12 hours than sitting in one of those damnable chairs.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:29 PM on September 14 [14 favorites]


Wow. Two thoughts.

(1) My maximum distance regularly traveled is Albany, NY to (Orlando/Boynton Beach) Florida. That's with adequate stops and a co-driver > 24 hours. (2) I haven't been on a plane since coming home from the Y2K NYE Widespread Panic shows in Atlanta,

and given what you folks have been saying, I'm pretty sure I never will again. ( OK, if someone wants to send me First Class/Charter, I will reluctantly go... )
posted by mikelieman at 1:38 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


So they're not even testing to show whether the actual screens are dangerous in a crash, because that would make the poor airlines even poorer?

This is incredibly common in crash testing. You don't care about the electronics inside, you care about the hard edges and the fasteners. I don't consider this a weaselly way of testing; I run tests like this all the time.

[citation-needed]

The argument that's made (sort of touched on in the article, but badly) is that the 737 was designed before modern failure-tolerant design standards really became a thing. It's not an argument I necessarily agree with, but we've come a long way in 50 years in the design space around aircraft. One of the things that happens from a certification standpoint (and again, I see this all the time) is that an original design will be certified to whatever standards are available at the time and subsequent iterations are certified "by similarity," which has a much lower bar to entry than analysis or test. This qual-by-sim approach is, in my opinion, kind of a big deal that isn't being addressed properly. Whether all versions of the 737 have gone through qual-by-sim is something I don't know, but see for example this accident report about a GIV that crashed here in Massachusetts - the interlock between the gust lock and throttle controls had been redesigned several times and qualified by similarity, but had diverged from the original qualification so much that they no longer performed their intended function.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:41 PM on September 14 [10 favorites]


>I wouldn't disable reclining, but I'd make it so you and the person behind you both had to push the button to make it happen. That way, nobody would get an adult's weight covered with a hard plastic shell slammed hard and fast against their kneecaps with no warning. And the motion would be slow and controlled.

Eva Air
has seats which, when reclined, move the bottom cushion forward, so the person behind actually gets more leg room.

I loved that. YOU get penalised when you recline your seat and you actually provide MORE leg room for the person behind you. Brilliant!
posted by Laotic at 1:54 PM on September 14 [21 favorites]


I'm really surprised this article wasn't about DVT.
posted by bq at 1:57 PM on September 14 [7 favorites]


Oh, we're past that, bq. Once you turn 40, you can sit in a spot for 12 hours, nothing happens to your veins. I just drove for 12 hours and I'm finsmadjfkjoiwerm,sdf
posted by Laotic at 2:02 PM on September 14 [5 favorites]


I'm doing Boston to Hong Kong non-stop later this year. 15.5 hours in a metal tube.

Damn straight I paid the extra $700 for premium economy.
posted by Talez at 2:21 PM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Sometimes premium economy isn't even a purchasable upgrade unless you have status on the airline. I have definitely had this happen where I had no choice but to sit in economy because my work does not pay for first class and the premium economy class was only available to a certain status in the frequent flier program. I can't remember what airline that was. American maybe?

I do know that Delta, Icelandair, and Korean Air will let you purchase it regardless of status, thankfully.

I hate flying, and I have to fly upwards of twice every month. I would love for some rules preventing these seats from getting smaller.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:27 PM on September 14 [3 favorites]


The last time I flew I came close to garrotting the molester of dead swine sitting in front of me, because from the start my knees were up against the seat in front of me, to the point I couldn't use the seatback pocket. Then the MoDS tried to recline, by throwing his weight back against the seat. Then he looked over at me and said, "Let me recline, asshole."

He really didn't like my reply of "Once we can make my femurs shorter, shithead, I'll do that." Ended up calling the flight attendant, and she basically told him to put on his pull-up Pampers and deal.

What made me even angrier was that my wife and I, married two days before, were separated by aisles because the idiots at Untied penalized us for the crime of looking at our flight plans, realizing our original plane would have gotten us from Newark to Dulles an hour after our connecting flight would have left, and trying to rearrange things.

(This made me angry because if that had happened, we probably would have gotten some distressed traveller assistance in DC, and since we were pro-active we did not in fact get any assistance, except them putting us far enough away we couldn't even see each other for the entire flight. My letter to them, written and sent to the CEO, was kind of epic.)
posted by mephron at 2:29 PM on September 14 [7 favorites]


My congressman has been raising hell about this lately and is pushing for something called the SEAT act, but a half-assed search doesn't tell me what that act would do exactly.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:54 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


SEAT Act of 2016 also sponsored by one of our Illinois reps. Not sure what the current version is, although it was still moving through Congress this summer.
posted by crush at 3:08 PM on September 14 [4 favorites]


"Amtrak considering tighter airline-style economy class seating: executive":
Outgoing Amtrak Co-chief Executive Wick Moorman said on Wednesday the money-losing U.S. passenger rail system is considering a less comfortable economy class of seats that could allow it to pack in more passengers.

“We are looking at doing some creative things in terms of creating an economy class,” Moorman said at the National Press Club talk in Washington.

He said that seat pitch - the distance between the seatback and the seat in front of it - would be tighter like in airline seats. “There will be some other things that just don’t make it quite as comfortable,” Moorman said.
The incoming CEO? Former CEO of Delta!
posted by grouse at 3:40 PM on September 14 [13 favorites]


Outgoing Amtrak Co-chief Executive Wick Moorman said on Wednesday the money-losing U.S. passenger rail system is considering a less comfortable economy class of seats that could allow it to pack in more passengers.

Will that actually help? Maybe there's pent-up demand in the Northeast Corridor, but my (cross-country) Amtrak trips have all had plenty of open seats in coach already.
posted by bassooner at 4:01 PM on September 14 [6 favorites]


Does anyone actually fit into airline seats? I am 5'2'' and wear a size 2. It's a tight squeeze for me, and once the person in front decides to recline, all bets are off. Frankly, I'm skeptical about the utility of the brace position* which is good because there is no way anyone can manage it in economy.

* In a crash, where your momentum is going to throw you forward, why would you position your brain for max impact against the nearest immovable object, and simultaneously expose your spine to falling debris?
posted by basalganglia at 4:05 PM on September 14 [4 favorites]


In a crash, where your momentum is going to throw you forward, why would you position your brain for max impact against the nearest immovable object, and simultaneously expose your spine to falling debris?

If I understand the physics correctly, the idea is to put your head already up against the nearest immovable object, so it doesn't hit it at the speed of airplane. You can get a fair bit of momentum going in that two feet or so of air, and at that speed, that'd be the end of your skull.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:23 PM on September 14 [6 favorites]


The 737 is a very compelling case for incrementalism in engineering.


So is the C-130, and they have fucking leg room.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:33 PM on September 14 [5 favorites]


Ugh, I'm 5' 11' but with hella long legs, so I am never comfortable. What really stings, though, is knowing that I'm in discomfort so some rich asshole could see profits go up that much higher. I want there to be a revolution against capitalists where we force them to live by the standards they've imposed on us. Former airline CEOs flying around in cramped seats on delayed flights where their only money is a "voucher" for $200 than only be used in $1 increments...
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 6:47 PM on September 14 [10 favorites]


Welp, I've been traveling nonstop for a month and the work stress and claustrophobic panic provoked by this thread got me to buy a first class upgrade when I checked in for my cross-country flight tomorrow. I still have *counts fingers* five other flights this month, but they're all much shorter.

Probably an AskMe, but what should I be taking advantage of up in first class to get my money's worth tomorrow? I know they'll feed me, and have booze available!
posted by bowtiesarecool at 7:00 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Bow ties, make sure you wait in the first class lounge away from us riff raft!
posted by raccoon409 at 7:03 PM on September 14 [3 favorites]


If its domestic first class (other than a few premium routes), you don't get much other than more food/drink service, usually free alcohol, and slightly better seats. Still worth it (I get upgraded to first a lot), but its nothing like the wonderland that is international first class or first class on like LAX-JFK routes [the price differential is much less, too, though]. On most domestic airlines, a domestic first class ticket won't get you sky club access by itself.

(Like on Delta, my main airline, there is a huge difference between "normal" first class and Delta One, which is the premium first class you get on international or certain specific long-haul domestic routes. Only Delta One gives you sky club with just a ticket, although you can also get it via the right Medallion level or credit card)
posted by thefoxgod at 7:13 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


what should I be taking advantage of up in first class to get my money's worth tomorrow?

Depending on the plane you're on, they often ask if you want a drink before take off, which feels luxurious. If there's a screen you can probably watch tv/movies for free, when you'd normally have to pay in economy. It really depends on the airline and aircraft type. When I'm upgraded I usually look at the app/online beforehand. The amenities for each class is usually listed.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:06 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Meals are almost always included with first class seats, as well. They're even pretty tasty.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:28 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Oh, and it's not uncommon to get hot towels before landing, on redeye flights.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:29 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I think the real conflict in the commercial airline industry is global warming versus a huge, global demand for flying, and you get these proxy battles over seat sizes as a consequence of that. The ability to be on these planes and incur a carbon footprint is something the developed world takes for granted in a particular way, and so the discourse incurs this an unrecognized dilemma of "Do you as a consumer want deep vein thrombosis, or do you want to trash the planet?" Bigger seats is better for the individual but also means a bigger carbon footprint. I'm not sure the economic and political systems that exist now are set up to allocate flight as a resource wisely.
posted by polymodus at 10:47 PM on September 14 [3 favorites]


DVT risk is no joke. My 6 foot and change 30-something husband wound up in the emergency room after a Malaysian Air flight from Indonesia to London, and was on blood thinners for months afterwards.

Semi-related, not long afterwards we switched to a British Airways Amex, and we're now trying to pump as much of our regular spend through that card as possible to get enough points to upgrade our flights back to Australia to visit family. I'm torn about this, because we ordinarily fly Emirates, which is an AMAZING AMAZING AIRLINE and their economy configuration is very quite comfortable for l'il old me, but Mr Fish really needs more legroom and their points scheme isn't great. Which is a shame, because British Airways suuuuuuuuuuuuucks as an airline.
posted by nerdfish at 4:01 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


The difference between first class in name only on any US airline and actual first class on damn-near any other airline in the world is wider than the gulf between coach and first, in my experience.

You'd think that if this country could do one thing right it'd be elitism.
posted by rokusan at 4:32 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]


Yeah, domestic first class is first-class dog shit.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 4:41 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


Outgoing Amtrak Co-chief Executive Wick Moorman said on Wednesday the money-losing U.S. passenger rail system is considering a less comfortable economy class of seats that could allow it to pack in more passengers.

If only there were some other way to add capacity to a train.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:33 AM on September 15 [19 favorites]


If only there were some other way to add capacity to a train.

Well, other approaches have already been modeled and found to be sub-optimal.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:22 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]


The number of cars on a train are limited by the length of the train stations. That's why a lot of commuter trains have gone two-tiered or you have those "The last three cars do not stop at Station X" announcements.

That said, as observed above, long range trains are already not packed to (over) capacity the way airlines are. Before they need to worry about increasing car capacity they need to worry about increasing demand by way of improving scheduling adherence and speed.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:47 AM on September 15 [6 favorites]


I don't really see much change coming from the FAA, since they have combined missions of regulating and promoting the aviation industry.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:57 AM on September 15


Last year when traveling I "upgraded" to Economy Plus, only to find that the seat was even narrower because it was a bulkhead seat and it had a folding armrest tray table.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:07 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]


The last time I flew I came close to garrotting the molester of dead swine sitting in front of me,

As a larger than average person, my seat back is going back. Sorry not sorry. Not my problem. I didn't design the thing. In point of fact, the 1 inch or so they recline isn't nearly far enough - my back will be killing me in an hour or so.

I'm literally tall enough that my kneecaps touch the seats to either side of the seat ahead of me - I couldn't possibly fit them in the space afforded for my seat - and I somehow manage to not lose my shit like an unrestrained toddler. Airline seats are literally like the toy furniture you find in kindergarten classrooms. It's good that you're short, you'd never be able the handle the millions of indignities that tall people must face daily if you're driven to violence over reclining seats(!).

I've never had a problem with reclining seatbacks. And as I say, I have 37 glorious inches of inseam. Yes, ladies, these *do* go all the way to the top!

Here's how you sit in airline seats and accommodate the seatback ahead of you. Cross your legs at or above the ankles, and spread your knees apart. This has the advantage of putting your thighs on the seat, which will alleviate pressure on the coccyx, and now you can fit much more leg in the same space. I know, I know - they say feet flat on the floor. I haven't been able to do that on a domestic flight since the 90s. You'll be fine, and you'll have far less reason to pick a fight with person ahead of you.

And I'd suggest anger management therapy for your violence issues.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:24 AM on September 15


"I don't really see much change coming from the FAA, since they have combined missions of regulating and promoting the aviation industry."

The people doing safety regulation in the FAA take their work seriously and without appreciable political interference to compromise those values. The issue here is not that, but whether seating density can be considered an aircraft safety issue at all. The Daily Beast article is a hot mess of misinformation on aircraft certification.
High density seating has been evaluated for its crashworthiness and the ability to evacuate the aircraft, and must meet the same safety standards as first class seating, scaled to take into account the increased density.

There are good reasons to mandate more comfortable seating, but crash safety doesn't factor into it.
posted by cardboard at 8:29 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


Cross your legs at or above the ankles, and spread your knees apart.

That only works if there is no bulkhead, other passengers, or aisle traffic on either side of you. And if I could afford three coach seats to make that happen, I could afford first class.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:50 AM on September 15 [6 favorites]



The difference between first class in name only on any US airline and actual first class on damn-near any other airline in the world is wider than the gulf between coach and first, in my experience.


Not in mine. The difference is between first class in the US on most domestic routes and first class on international routes.

Delta One on, say, LAX-HND is very very nice and compares well with first class on ANA or Korean Air, etc. Standard first class on a LAX-SLC route or something is mediocre, but thats often true on domestic routes in other countries as well.
posted by thefoxgod at 12:45 PM on September 15


Last year when traveling I "upgraded" to Economy Plus, only to find that the seat was even narrower because it was a bulkhead seat and it had a folding armrest tray table.

True, although I always choose bulkhead because (a) its often more leg room (especially when its a phantom bulkhead --- no actual wall in front of you), and, more importantly (b) no one can recline into you. The tradeoff is seat width, so it depends on whether your usual problem is leg room or width (I'm tall and not particularly wide, so bulkhead and/or exit row is always the way to go).
posted by thefoxgod at 12:50 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]


Barring an increase in seat spacing, I think at a bare minimum the reclining function of airplane seats should now be permanently disabled.

Noooooooo!
I certainly understand the hate on reclining, but my back starts killing me if I can't recline for 5-10 minutes every hour or so, or get up and stand. It's impossible to stand up at your seat, and it's the shits for everyone in the row if the window or middle person needs to get out. Don't hate the sad reclining people, hate the frickin' airlines that have crap seats and no room to stretch or get up.


Sure, unreclinable seats would be a nightmare, but they're a controllable nightmare. Even though your space is ridiculously restricted, it is predictably stable.

As I mentioned above, my first choice would be to increase seat spacing. And I do empathize with the reclining people, but as you say, everyone can get up for a stretch if one person needs to get out. Or of course, it would be nice if we could all recline like a synchronized swim team. But as it sits, the violent deformation of your personal space by an unseen stranger at random intervals is the greater of the two evils.
posted by fairmettle at 2:41 PM on September 15 [6 favorites]


Huh, I barely recline (on international flights) because anything more causes my back to ache and that's with stuffing another pillow and/or the blanket into the small of my back.

I read somewhere, probably on here, that the airlines designed their seats based on the dimensions of male travelers of the 1950s and I can believe that.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:54 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]


The number of cars on a train are limited by the length of the train stations.

If only there were a way to enter at one door and travel between cars once aboard. While we're thinking like planes. Also, good job eliminating the one one of the two reasons I'd take a train. (The other, airport security)

I've heard people with shorter femurs than me complain about knees hitting the airplane seat in front and that just doesn't really happen to me - once I stop slouching in my chair. Consider scooting your butt back and sit up straight. (Which is easier said than done in comfort for many hours if it's not a habit, but) I only say that because, although it seems incredibly obvious, I "discovered" that "trick" when I was [two digits, not starting with a 1 or 2] old and then felt like an idiot. Too quick to blame the airlines and suffer, I guess. It won't work for everyone. In fact I might be the only one in the world that dumb. I bet they test the chairs for only a short time, and on people with impeccable posture.
posted by ctmf at 7:17 PM on September 15


Which is easier said than done in comfort for many hours if it's not a habit

Or bigger than me, or have a medical issue, etc. Of course.
posted by ctmf at 7:19 PM on September 15


pogo_fuzzybutt, I am six foot four and the problem is that he was trying to shove my thighbones back through my hips using my patellas to do so. My knees were right up against the seat in front of me, and he acted like he deserved to recline even if it cripped me. I was in fact in pain, I couldn't use the seat back pocket, and he tried to shove it back repeatedly as if somehow my thighs could telescope down.

If you think it's totally okay to do that, please go directly to your faith's negative afterlife.
posted by mephron at 7:29 PM on September 15 [6 favorites]


Bah. You recliners need your own airline, so you can smash into each other.

(On preview... I guess that's called United.)
posted by rokusan at 4:59 AM on September 16 [4 favorites]


Frankly, I'm skeptical about the utility of the brace position* which is good because there is no way anyone can manage it in economy.

* In a crash, where your momentum is going to throw you forward, why would you position your brain for max impact against the nearest immovable object, and simultaneously expose your spine to falling debris?


The issue is flying debris moving horizontally in the plane. Bend over and you are risk for falling stuff or banging your head but your head stays attached to your neck. So you are at risk of injury but not sudden death from decapitation or high speed projectile impact.
posted by srboisvert at 6:24 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]


I'd rather stand harnessed into a vertical padded alcove that was equipped with a little fold down shelf to rest my butt on whenever I needed to take my weight off my feet. In medieval churches this welcome structure was called a misericord, or "mercy seat."It gave older or more infirm brothers a graceful way to participate in long services and ceremonies requiring alongside the physically stronger members of the community.

I've sung in churches that have them, and tried one or two out over the years. They're pretty cool!

Anyway, the height of the airplane harness and misery cord would have to be adjustable four different guests, and I don't know if that would impact the safety. Also, non-weirdos might not take to it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:56 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]


Semi-related, not long afterwards we switched to a British Airways Amex, and we're now trying to pump as much of our regular spend through that card as possible to get enough points to upgrade our flights back to Australia to visit family. I'm torn about this, because we ordinarily fly Emirates, which is an AMAZING AMAZING AIRLINE and their economy configuration is very quite comfortable for l'il old me, but Mr Fish really needs more legroom and their points scheme isn't great. Which is a shame, because British Airways suuuuuuuuuuuuucks as an airline.

You can usually use BA points to fly other OneWorld alliance flights, and if you're flying to Australia you should be able to fly Qantas metal there, and Qantas is a pretty pleasant flight experience, all things considered.
posted by mightygodking at 9:49 PM on September 16


The Underpants Monster, standing seats were patented by Airbus in 2003. VivaColombia might now actually introduce them.

Ironically, in 2006 a post was deleted from MeFi, "for the following reason: debunked". Back in 2006 apparently, Airbus denied working on the standing seats, because it was rather "going in the direction of more comfort".
posted by Laotic at 12:41 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


You know that quality difference between Emirates and BA, nerdfish?

Imagine the same-sized step down and you have AA or Delta, compared to which BA feels like flying on a heavenly cloud.
posted by rokusan at 5:22 AM on September 21 [2 favorites]


I fly at least 30 times a year, and I have opinions. I always fly coach, always carry-on luggage only (able-bodied single and freelance ftw). I'm six feet exactly and average in every proportion.

One, before I recline, if there's someone behind me, I ask. Why is that hard? I get jerks who recline at me and I kinda flip out. Like I'll knee for 15 minutes and then call the flight attendant if people don't ask. Ask before you recline. I can deal, we can split time and I can move, but do not ever expect me to.

Two, wtf coach. The food. The security. The jostling. The random charges for random whatever. Thank god I have a Kindle and a long attention span. How do people sleep in those things? I have to be awake for 36 hours and lower the tray table to even reach unconsciousness. I stand up and wander to the back and bother flight attendants. I try to carry candy from exotic locations to charm them. I carry disposable Starbucks pour-over coffee cups as a legit excuse to open conversations by asking for hot water not because airline coffee sucks (you should see what I drink at home) but because I need to stretch and not get told to sit down.

Three, for the effing miracle of air travel, I pay like $150 to get from Beijing to Jakarta. I pay $120 to go to Bangkok, $70 to go to Seoul, and $250 to go to Tokyo. And if you know your geography, the last one doesn't belong. The first one, Beijing-Jakarta, includes two flights plus as long a stopover as I want in Kuala Lumpur, up to the limit of human endurance for lack of sleep+a quick nap at a hotel, after which I have to pay $250 for both flights. If I'm flying to Shenzhen, it's $50 less than a flight to Hong Kong. Beijing to Tokyo is about the same distance to Seoul and it's 3 times more... And it's $70 to fly from Seoul to Tokyo... And from Hong Kong... And from Taipei... And sometimes from Bangkok...Wtf. Whatever is deciding the economics here is not demand. It's dirtbag policy decisions and it's madness. I started hanging out in Seoul because why not add a desirable destination for half the price. And supposedly Asia has good airlines. I'm not at all surprised to find out safety is on the chopping block in the never-ending quest to make life suck for travellers. I wish life didn't work like that.

And yeah, seats are always cramped. I'm the most average-sized euro-genetic male human in the universe, according to pretty much all the stats. There is no justifying this. Why?
posted by saysthis at 4:15 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


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