Airline seats

Minimum Airline Seat Size? No.

Crowded Flights

No Minimum Seat Size Coming

On April 7, 2016, the U.S. Senate rejected a proposal to require the FAA to create minimum seat size and legroom requirements for airlines. As a result, airlines are free to continue shrinking seat size and legroom for air passengers and let “free market” forces determine the seating options for air passengers.

Shrinking Airline Seats

In order to increase the capacity of air passengers on each flight, airlines have shrunk economy class airline seats. In recent years, average economy class seats have shrunk from a width of 18 inches to 16.5 inches. Seat pitch, which is the space between a point on a seat to the same point on the seat in front of it, has shrunk from 35 inches to about 31 inches. Air passengers wanting more room have been required to pay additional fees for “premium” seats.

Nature of the Proposal

Senator Chuck Schumer sponsored an amendment that would have blocked airlines from further reducing the “size, width, padding, and pitch” of seats, passengers’ legroom, and the width of aisles. In addition, the amendment would have also required the FAA to set standards for the minimum amount of space that airlines must provide air passengers. Such space minimums would consider the “safety, health, and comfort” of air passengers.

The proposal also would have led to more transparent communications by airlines of the size of their seats. Specifically, airline websites would have had to communicate the size of an airlines’ seats, which would enable consumers to consider such information when buying airline tickets.

The Vote

Airlines have lobbied heavily against any mandates related to minimum seat size or seat pitch. Instead, airlines have argued that competition, not regulation, should determine the seat options (including sizes) available for air passengers.

The proposal failed by a vote of 42 for and 54 against, which reflected votes in favor by all but three Democrats and votes against by all but one Republican. Opponents of the proposal were largely based upon a rationale that seat size regulations would increase travel costs and limit travel options.


People are getting bigger, but airline seats are getting smaller. Proponents of increased regulation related to mandated minimum seat sizes believe that consumers are entitled to certain minimum standards related to comfort and safety. However, opponents argue that the disadvantages of increased regulation – fewer consumer options and potentially higher travel costs – outweigh the advantages. For U.S. consumers, based upon the recent vote in the Senate, no minimum seat sizes should be expected at any time soon. As a result, when searching for flights, consumers need to be aware of the differences in seat sizes when choosing among flights and cabins.

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Airline Auctions Arrive

Airline Auctions

Airline Auctions

Airlines are known to leave no stone unturned in seeking additional revenue streams (generally referred to as ancillary revenue), especially those with little to no cost. Airline auctions are a new tool being used by airlines to sell upgraded seats to the highest bidder in the days prior to a flight departure. As compared to simply giving such upgrades away to passengers based upon frequent flier status, airline auctions provide an immediate boost to revenues and profits.

Airline Auctions Explained

Premium airline seats often come with extremely high fares, which often results in such seats going unsold. As a result, airlines seek ways to fill these seats, including by offering upgrades to passengers who have purchased economy or other non-premium seats. Airline auctions involve the sale of upgraded seats, which may include first class, business class and premium coach seats. In addition, some airlines have even offered passengers the ability to purchase a seat next to an empty seat, offering what could be termed “neighbor-free” seating. [···]

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Survey on Airline Seat Swaps

Seat Swaps

Crowded Flights

Airline seat swaps occur regularly during commercial air travel. Air travelers are willing to pay or be paid to swap seats with other travelers, according to survey results released today. Air travelers sitting in a less desirable seat are willing to pay other travelers to swap for a more desirable seat. Similarly, in return for receiving payment, air travelers are willing to swap from a more desirable seat to a less desirable seat.

Airline Seat Swaps: Survey Overview

Presented below is an overview of the survey on airline seat swaps.

Survey Respondents

Seateroo hired SurveyMonkey to survey U.S. residents aged 18 to 65 years old who are mobile device users and had traveled via commercial airline at least 3 times during the previous 6 months. SurveyMonkey gathered responses from 401 respondents meeting the above criteria during the week of November 15-19, 2015. The margin for error based upon this sample size is +/- 5%.

Survey Design

Based upon prior studies related to air traveler preferences and complaints, we made certain underlying assumptions regarding the types of airline seats and situations that air travelers consider to be either more desirable or less desirable, respectively. Specifically, the airline seat swaps survey included the following assumptions:

  • Aisle and window seats are more desirable than middle seats;
  • Seats closer to the front are more desirable than seats towards the back;
  • Seats closer to family, friends, or colleagues are more desirable than seats next to strangers;
  • Seats in a premium seating section (i.e., business or first class) are more desirable than economy seats; and
  • Seats near quiet passengers are more desirable than seats near crying children, loud talkers, or other potentially annoying air travelers.


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Reclining Airline Seats and You

Reclining Airline Seats
Reclining Airline Seats

Passengers flying economy are faced with smaller seats with less space between seats (called seat pitch). In this cabin environment, reclining airline seats significantly can greatly reduce the space for the passenger sitting behind the reclining passenger.  A survey of international flight attendants indicated that over 60% had been involved in, or witness to, an argument between passengers on the subject of reclined seats. Is the end near for reclining airline seats?

Opinions on Seat Reclining

There are passengers that are pro- and anti-seat reclining. For the pro-reclining passengers, the rationale is fairly simple: the airlines offer reclining seats and anyone can choose to recline or not to recline as desired. In addition, particularly on longer flights, some passengers indicate that a reclining airline seat is the difference between being able to sleep and staying awake.

The anti-reclining passengers point out that the ability to recline should not outweigh the fact that the airlines have significantly reduced the pitch between seats, especially in the economy section. In addition, for taller passengers and/or passengers working on laptops, they have a right to be comfortable which is not guaranteed by also electing to recline their seats. [···]

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Brand Strategist Promotes Airline Seat Swapping

airline seat

Airline Seat Swapping

A prominent brand strategist recently promoted airline seat swapping as an innovation that could improve the commercial airline industry. At the Airline Passenger Experience Association Expo in Portland at the end of September 2015, the brand strategist presented a fictional airline that would offer alternative approaches to commercial aviation. Given the name Poppi by Devin Liddell, Teague’s Principal Brand Strategist, this fictional airline was different from current airlines in a number of ways.

Innovations to Improve Aviation Includes Airline Seat Swapping

The fictional start-up airline Poppi was created in order to illustrate the brand strategist’s view as to ways to improve and positively disrupt aviation. One disruptive approach by Poppi would be to make the middle seat more enjoyable for passengers, such as by offering additional goods and even sponsored gifts or “middle seat only” benefits that lessen the dread for passengers traveling in such seats.

Another innovation offered by Poppi would be to promote airline seat swapping via a social app. Such seat swapping would not be mandatory, of course, but rather would be based upon the preferences determined by each passenger. [···]

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Airline Seats Keep Shrinking

airline seats are shrinking

tight squeeze on airline seats is a reality

Flown via economy seating lately? Airline seats keep shrinking in size and comfort. Anyone who travels via airline on a regular basis knows this to be true. In order to increase revenues and profitability, commercial airlines have increased the seating capacity per flight by decreasing the size of seats and space between seats. In addition, airlines have decreased the amount of cushioning used on seats, which reduces the weight and space of seats, which also increases the number of seats that can be jammed into each flight.

Shrinking Seat Sizes

One measure of airline seat size is pitch, which is the distance from one point in a seat to the same point in a seat in the next row. Based upon data analyzed in a column by USA Today, seat pitch has indeed shrunk between 1985 and 2014 for the largest U.S. domestic carriers (American, Delta, Southwest, and United). In addition to pitch, airline seat width is another measure of airline seat size. The same USA Today study also shows that seat width has decreased significantly for the largest U.S. domestic carriers since 1985. For example, while Southwest offered seat widths from 19 to 19.5 inches in 1991, by 2014 seat widths had been reduced to only 17 inches. [···]

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