The Air Squeeze: Airline Profits Up, Comfort Down!

According to the Transportation Department, airlines had their second most profitable year ever in 2017. Passenger planes are also at their largest size ever, yet a disturbing trend of disrespect for customers continues–flying has become more and more uncomfortable and its easy to see why!

It’s obvious after reading “The Incredible Shrinking Airplane” by Ryan Bradley in the Fall 2018 edition of Popular Science. Though profits are up and planes are bigger, customers are continuing to be squeezed into smaller and smaller spaces during flights.

For example, average 1960 legroom (35″) and seat width (18″) has dropped to 31 and 16.5 inches respectively, with some budget carriers only providing 28 inches of legroom between seats, the smallest of any commercial flights. Add to that Americans are 24 pounds heavier and an inch taller than in 1960.

Taller people make seat backs and luggage bins closer. Heavier people, which hold that weight mostly in the hips, makes seats and armrests tighter. The situation is so blatant that airlines are now using distracting cabin lighting to help reduce instances of “air rage”!

Manufacturers claim it’s a battle between comfort and profit. But that argument doesn’t stand in the current profit boom in the industry that raked in $15.5 billion in 2017, up from $14 billion in after-tax net profit in 2016 (Bureau of Transportation Statistics).

Manufacturers also claim that customers who want low fares are willing to be squeezed, but that argument also doesn’t pass the smell test in a climate in which larger corporations have proved they can make great profits while treating customers, and the environment, with the utmost respect. In short, it’s time to stand up!

Flight attendants, who are mostly unionized, are speaking out against this trend because they have to deal with passenger irritations and increasing instances of “air rage” every day. They are against proposals for what are called “Saddle Seats”, perches which put passengers in near vertical posture that could raise cabin capacity another 20%. Yikes!

For those of you reading this note, I appeal to you to write to your congress members who generally take business and first class on your tax dollars. Tell those reps you care and vote this November only for those who feel the same way.

As a stockholder and customer of Southwest Airlines, one of the most profitable in the air, I’m writing this note to promote the idea of more respect for customers who pay the bills and make the profits. To Southwest, and other airlines I say, “Reverse this pattern now”.

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