Airline Seats

You rush to Midway or O’Hare with barely enough time to get through airport screening. Then you board your plane, secure your overhead luggage, find your seat, settle in, and prepare to relax.

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June 17, 2017 – Free MCAT CARS Practice

Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.

You rush to Midway or O’Hare with barely enough time to get through airport screening. Then you board your plane, secure your overhead luggage, find your seat, settle in, and prepare to relax. But relaxing is becoming more difficult because your seat is such a tight squeeze.

Why, exactly? Because the average distance between rows of seats has been reduced from 35 inches before airline deregulation in the 1970s to about 31 inches today. The average width of an airline seat is now about 16½ inches, down from 18.

Airlines have been shrinking seat sizes — and charging more for legroom — to boost the bottom line. How tight is too tight? Earlier this month, Congress shot down a proposal by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., to mandate minimum airline seat sizes. Some consumer groups side with Cohen in seeing this as a concern for government to solve. The airlines see it as a job for market forces — that is, the choices of customers — to address.

We take the latter view — to a point. Congress shouldn’t be in the business of dictating seat dimensions to airlines. If consumers want more room, they may have to pay for it (or take the discount and tolerate the sardine-can feeling). Or they can fly airlines that offer more generous accommodations.

End of story? Not quite. The government might have a valid regulatory role in establishing minimum seat dimensions as a matter of public safety. There are two concerns:

Does the size of a plane’s seats influence how quickly it can be evacuated in emergency landings, runway accidents, and cabin fires or other mishaps? And does shrunken legroom make passengers more susceptible to blood clots (venous thrombosis) in legs, which in extremely rare cases causes serious, even fatal embolism in the lungs?

Despite past studies, there is no clear answer to either of these safety questions.

The airlines and the FAA have performed some mock evacuations and computer simulations to determine safety. However, neither can re-create every real-life variable: type of emergency, cabin lighting, size of passengers, staff assistance, etc. The answer is … up in the air.

So, FAA, give us more data on the evacuation question. That should be an easy test to stage with multiple aircraft and several hundred FAA employees willing to be guinea pigs. A few planes, a few scenarios, a few limitations on all those exit options, and you’d have a better database.

On blood clots: The chance of developing thrombosis is remote, but anyone traveling for long periods (generally more than four hours) is at higher risk (this is also true of travel by car, bus or train). While there is no evidence that smaller seat size is a contributing factor to developing leg clots, the medical consensus is that to prevent clots, passengers should leave their seats and walk the aisles during longer flights. If small seats and narrow aisles make that harder, then theoretically the risk of clot is greater.

In sum, time to update the data on these questions and see if we all can fly safer:

•As aisles diminish and seats get smaller — and let’s leave aside for now the obesity epidemic where the fannies in those seats are getting larger — the airlines and the FAA should perform a new round of evacuation tests and computer modeling.

•The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should do further long-range surveillance of venous thrombosis following air travel.

•Some sound advice for the rest of us: Let’s get out of our seats and walk around more on long flights.

Adapted from chicagotribune.

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Jack Westin
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20 Comments


  1. There is controversy surrounding the shrinking sizes of airline seats, and the author presents many issues that surround the solving of the problem and how the shrinking size could bring detriment to the passenger. He presents how congress should or should not have a voice in the changing of seats and presents many different options at the end of the passage regarding future steps he believes that should be taken such as research, more trials, and a better way to deal with uncomfortable, long flights in the current situation.

    Reply

  2. Deregulation of airline seating in the 1970’s has led to controversy surrounding the decreasing seat and passenger space to improve the bottom line for airliners. Concerns include discomfort for passengers and health risks. One congressman has made an effort to appeal for larger airline seats and leg room. While some consumer groups believe that the government should intervene, the author tends to favor the free market and allowing consumers to sacrifice discomfort for cheaper tickets, or fly with more accommodating airlines.

    In any case, the author also believes that the government can also play a part in regards to seating size in the perspective of health risks including deep vein thrombosis (possibly due to lower leg space and inability to walk around) as well as ability to evacuate the plane in case of emergencies. However, the data regarding such variables is very limited. The author calls the FAA to provide realistic simulations to gather more data regarding these public safety concerns.

    Reply

  3. Airline seat dimensions should be regulated by the consumer unless safety studies prove them too be dangerous in emergency situations.

    Reply

  4. Airplane seat = Difficult to relax
    Seat dimensions= not Government business
    Result of studies= Possible health concern but no safety issue

    Reply

  5. Airplane seats = tight squeeze
    health concerns = govt problem
    FAA needs more data

    The author talks about how seat accommodations and regulations have decreased over the years. They present that the government has shot down a senator’s proposal to mandate better dimensions. It indicates that the airlines deem the seat regulations to be a matter of the private sector rather than the pubic sector, and government concern for that matter. The author proposes that more data is needed from the FAA to ensure that there is no real safety risk and presents the possible health risks for not being able to get up and walk around during flights preventing clots.

    Reply

  6. Seat Size = Concerning + new data needed

    Reply

  7. MIP: Tight space = can’t relax, public safety = gov’t concern + 2 concerns; neutral

    Reply

  8. debate if airplane seats should be larger bc seats have been getting smaller to make more money. should government make the airline to make seat bigger? some say government should tell them how to run their business, but if health of public is an issue then government can be involved. one of health issue being thrombosis. not much evidence against smaller seat and health of population. author thinks there should be more study for the future.

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  9. Qualifies the market hypothesis: safety and blood clots. Also makes suggestions to that end: Inc gov agencies role and our role.

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  10. leg room of planes have gotten smaller.
    two distinct views; government should regulate VS consumers’ choice.
    author says little bit of both; consumer can choose which airline best suits their need and govt should regulate in terms of public health.
    however, there are no clear answers to it.

    Reply

  11. MI: Questioning if airline seat size should be government mandated and identifying conditions in which it should not be left to the consumers. The FFA finding it is a safety issue in evacuation or passengers are at an increased risk for blood clots. Author tone: Concerned, also noting that as a passenger the importance of walking around.

    Reply

  12. Seat sizes reduced, government has safety role, safety training limited; authors tone is neutral

    Reply

  13. Government intervention vs. consumer choice. Safety and health issues considered but not enough research done to come to logical conclusion

    Reply

  14. MIP: Public safety due to reduced seat size on airlines is a government concern, but past studies are not definitive and more data is needed to make a decision on the issue.

    Reply

  15. Shrinking airline seat sizes = new public safety questions. More research needed.

    Reply

  16. relaxing diff + seats smaller, no clear answers about safety

    Reply

  17. MP: Less regulations on airlines seat size dimensions and its hard to test safety

    Reply

  18. MIP
    (1) Airplane seats + aisle distance = smaller
    (2) Congress should dictate size b/c public safety (?)
    (2) Decrease size = increase r/o clots & trouble evacuation (?)
    (3) Need new simulations testing evacuation and research on thrombosis

    Tone
    Neutral

    Reply

  19. The size of airline seats is declining, but it’s not up to government to regulate this trend. Despite the discomfort, there are no studies that prove smaller seats makes it harder to evacuate a plan in the event of an emergency, but it’s been proven that sitting in tighter seats for a longer period of time will cause blood clots.

    Reply

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