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Taking an airplane flight today is quite common, and literally millions of people board an airplane each day, traveling to virtually every part of the globe. Some will find their ride slightly uncomfortable, because airplane seats are a little smaller. The average seats measure 17.2 to 18 inches across (43.68 to 45.72 cm), which means that anyone with more than a 36 inch (91.44 cm) hip measurement is likely to feel a little squeezed upon sitting down. Some airlines insist that airplane seats measurements have not changed at all, and that more people — especially in North America — are simply bigger, making the seats seem smaller.
There are some exceptions to the relatively small size, with some airlines using their bigger seats as a selling point. First class and business or executive class flights may offer wider seats as well.
Another, and perhaps more crucial difference in airplane seats comes from the measurements between seats aligned vertically. This measurement, called the pitch, has changed considerably. While people are a bit wider, they are also considerably taller than they once were, on average. Much discomfort in long flights comes from the inability to move one’s legs properly due to small pitches.
In first class, pitch is seldom an issue, and most have a generous 80-inch (203.2 cm) pitch. On coach or economy class planes, pitch tends to be about 31 inches (78.74 cm). Some companies offer a larger pitch of 33-34 inches (83.82-86.36 cm), and Boeing, in fact, has standardized a 33 inch (83.82 cm) pitch for in its 777s. Smaller planes are likely to offer the smallest pitch, and international flights the largest.
In all, however, pitch is still by many accounts too small, which in turn makes airplane seats feel too small. A person over 6 feet (1.82 m) tall, with hips wider than 3 feet (0.91 m) is likely to feel squeezed both vertically and horizontally on the smallest seats with the smallest pitch. Anyone who has had the experience of having the seat kicked by a small child in a seat directly behind him will also realize that smaller pitch makes this possible.
Airplane seats are often criticized because adding more seats to a plane often means reducing pitch. Even when a plane is only half-full, the distance between rows is still likely to cause discomfort on long flights, and perhaps on short flights as well. Some companies are attempting to increase pitch, but this then leads to greater ticket prices, because the same amount of fuel transports fewer people.
Frequently Asked Questions
Have airline seats actually gotten smaller over the years?
Yes, airline seats have generally gotten smaller. According to a report by the New York Times, the average width of an economy seat has decreased from 18 inches to about 16.5 to 17 inches over the past few decades. Additionally, seat pitch, the distance from one point on a seat to the same point on the seat in front, has also reduced from an average of 35 inches to about 31 inches, with some airlines offering as little as 28 inches.
Why are airplane seats getting smaller?
Airplane seats are getting smaller primarily due to economic factors. Airlines have been trying to maximize their profits by fitting more seats into the cabin, which can lead to increased revenue per flight. This trend is driven by the competitive nature of the airline industry and the demand for lower ticket prices among consumers.
Does the size of airplane seats vary by airline or type of aircraft?
Yes, the size of airplane seats can vary significantly by airline and type of aircraft. Some budget carriers and specific aircraft models are known for having tighter seating configurations. It's important for travelers to research the specific airline and aircraft type when booking to understand the seat dimensions they can expect.
Are there regulations governing the size of airplane seats?
As of my knowledge cutoff in 2023, there are no specific regulations that dictate the minimum size of airplane seats in the United States. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does require that airlines demonstrate they can evacuate passengers quickly in an emergency, which indirectly impacts seat size and spacing.
What can passengers do if they find airplane seats too small or uncomfortable?
Passengers who find airplane seats too small or uncomfortable have a few options. They can book with airlines known for offering more spacious seating, pay for premium seats with extra legroom, or use seat comparison tools like SeatGuru to select the best available seat on their flight. Additionally, bringing a neck pillow or a lumbar support cushion can improve comfort during the flight.