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News out of the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany seemed to revolve around creating better “efficiency” in airline cabins this year, which loosely translates to “how to fit the most passengers into the smallest amount of space.”
Most concerning was the concept from Airbus offering seats 11-abreast on their new ultra-economy A380, but it wasn’t just one supplier selling the idea. Concepts across the floor offered up everything from staggered economy seats to reduced stowage space, all bragging about maximizing efficiency and selling more tickets. Southwest appeared to have the only silver-lining story of the bunch, announcing slightly wider seats on its next generation planes, but there’s now speculation that they’re cutting into armrest and aisle width to gussy up those numbers.
This in an industry that’s returned to more than healthy profitability.
The trend, as is now apparent, is moving towards cramming the most passengers into economy cabins while staying within the minimum safety parameters set up by regulators. Unfortunately for passengers, that trend is contra to rate of change in our waistlines. Nearly 33% of white and 48% of black Americans are now clinically obese, up from 29% and 39% respectively in 2002. We’re also now bringing more luggage onboard thanks to a spate of new fees now plaguing the industry.
While these two trains barreling towards each other may not today be in line to create a catastrophic collision, we’re already seeing a product of the friction. Airline complaints and inflight incidents are up — this year’s Airline Quality Report shows an increase of nearly 18% in complaints over last year. Passengers are now physically fighting over space in the cabin, creating delays and even diversions because of their disruptions. And as space gets even more cramped, you can bet that that frustration is just going to get worse.
For budget travelers, there seems to be little recourse but to ride out the changes and wait for the industry to self correct — that is, when the crisis boils over into catastrophic territory. The rest of the traveling public may need to get used to paying $25 for the exit row or upgrading to economy plus. It’s a small price to pay for what can be a whole world of personal space on a twelve-hour flight.