Friday, November 18, 2016
May I Have Samoa Room, Please?
Note how so many little fees are sneaking into airline travel. Economy class anyway. And even as Americans are getting bigger, seats in coach are getting smaller. Fact is, that over the past few years, “the ‘standard’ [coach] seat pitch [legroom – the distance each seat takes] has decreased almost industry-wide from 33-34 inches to more like 31 inches… [but] airlines maintain that leg room has not actually diminished. Instead, the adoption of a higher density seat back that, at 0.5 to 1" thick, was three to four inches thinner than the older padded seat backs afforded the airlines some extra room.” IndependentTraveler.com. Yeah, right! Some discount airlines have dropped to 28 inches and might not even allow the seat to recline at all. Some say it’s to make room for the more expensive business-travel in other classes. Butt weight, there’s more.
“In 1962, the U.S. government measured the width of the American backside in the seated position. It averaged 14 inches for men and 14.4 inches for women. Forty years later, an Air Force study directed by Robinette showed male and female butts had blown up on average to more than 15 inches.” CNN.com, 5/30/15. Coach seats today, depending on airline, measure 17 to 18.5 inches in width on average. Back in 1962, according to the National Institute of Health, under 50% of American adults were overweight or more. Butt by 2010 that number kicked up to well over 70%.
But what’s the bottom line? Back in the 1990s, 19 inches was about as narrow as you got in coach. Seat width in premium classes today almost never slides below 21 inches. Butt let’s face it, we are indeed getting larger, especially here in the United States. “[D]emographics are moving in the wrong direction. In 2002, [Consumer Reports] quoted a British ergonomics firm that provided data on human hip sizes worldwide. The result? Yep, the United States ranked first (20.6 inches), ahead of Germany (19.6), Britain (19.1), France (17.2), Japan (15.9) and China (15.6). It seems safe to say such averages have only increased over the last dozen years.” USAToday.com, 9/24/14.
“But the American rear end isn't really the important statistic here, [Air Force airplane consultant Kathleen] Robinette says… Nor are the male hips, which the industry mistakenly used to determine seat width sometime around the 1960s, she says.
“‘It's the wrong dimension. The widest part of your body is your shoulders and arms. And that's much, much bigger than your hips. Several inches wider.’ Furthermore, she says, women actually have larger hip width on average than men… The industry used the male hip as a seat measuring stick ‘thinking that it would accommodate the women too, but in fact they don't accommodate the larger women.’… The result: Airline seats are approximately 5 inches too narrow, she says. And that's for passengers in the 1960s, let alone the supersized U.S. travelers of today.” CNN.com. Huge increases in huge.
Those extra charges? Changing flights? Extra. Food? Extra. Checked bags? Often extra. An inch or two of extra leg room? Extra. Seats in the front section of economy? Often extra. If you are one of the 1.9 billion adults whom the World Health Organization has labeled as technically “obese.” Well, the trends are looking like there will be extra charges, perhaps, as Samoa Air already calculates in setting ticket prices, airfare based on body weight.
Some airlines force the “obviously large” to purchase an extra seat, some refunding that charge if there are any empty seats on that flight. Butt have you ever sat in a coach seat, particularly that middle seat, and found your neighbor unable to contain him or herself into their own seat? They’re all over your space, space you think you paid for. This issue is complicated, of course. Who should bear the burden of paying for consuming that extra space?
“Passenger rights advocates argue that most aeroplanes can’t accommodate passengers of all body types, and that everyone has the right to fly… ‘Tall, short, thin or fat, broad shoulders, wide hips or longer legs… people come in all sizes and it is rare for any coach seat to provide a comfortable and pleasant travel experience,’ says Peggy Howell, Vice Chairman and Public Relations Director ofNational Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA). ‘The responsibility of serving customers of all sizes is the cost of doing business in today’s modern world and that cost should not come at the expense of any one group of individuals.’…
“As well as charging customers by weight, which Samoa Air insists is not intended to create shame, it also offers an XL (extra large) row that has a more comfortable seat for larger people. It measures 12 to 14 inches wider than the traditional seat.
“Chris Langton, Chief Executive Officer of Samoa Air says the pay-by-weight system isn’t going anywhere. ‘Aircraft only have weight to sell and people will recognise that immediately,’ he says. ‘So they will ask questions as to why should light-weight people pay for heavy-weight people, and why they get charged for ‘excess weight’ with excessive fees.’
“The heavier a plane is, the more fuel it burns through… In other words, the argument is whether it is fair that a 150-pound person is charged for their 50-pound bag, when a 300-pound person with a carry-on isn’t charged anything extra. ‘As we say, ‘a kilo is a kilo is a kilo,’’ Langton says. ‘So it has nothing to do with the condition of the weight.’
“However, Peggy Howell of NAAFA argues that obesity is an illness, and that obese people should be entitled to having certain rights protected… ‘We question the legality of the discriminatory policy and whether it violates the Air Carrier Access Act governing the treatment of passengers with disabilities,’ she says… ‘The American Medical Association (AMA) recently declared obesity a disease, which should make fat passengers a protected class.’
“Howell points out that the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) addressed this issue in 2009, and issued a ‘one-person, one-fare’ ruling covering passengers with disabilities. Those passengers include ones who are ‘clinically obese’ and who cannot fit into a single seat. (Clinically obese is defined as having a BMI of 35 or higher.).” BBC.com, October 20th. For an average flight from, say, Boston to Denver, given current fuel prices, an extra 50 lbs. adds somewhere less than $5 to airline costs assuming the seat size remains the same. Some have suggested that we weigh passengers and their luggage and charge accordingly. See an extra airline charge growing here?
Should people be entitled to completely unobstructed personal space within the bounds of their seat parameters? OK, what are your thoughts… and experiences?
I’m Peter Dekom, and an eight hour flight in ¾ of a narrow seat is definitely not fun!