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  • Anannya Das

You're Not Crazy: Airplane Seats Really Have Shrunk

Have you ever gone on a flight and ended up sitting in the middle seat between two strangers, and whenever you moved, you accidentally hit one of them? You could swear that the seats had gotten smaller since the last time you were on an airplane. You were probably frustrated, but brushed it off―Americans are getting bigger, right? Seats couldn’t possibly be shrinking. Everyone thinks that airplane seats are small, but many people don’t complain out loud because the flights are usually short and it isn’t too much of an inconvenience for that amount of time. The interesting thing is that airplane seats actually are getting smaller.

From 1940 until today, seat width has shrunk from 18 to 17 inches, and the average space between you and the seat in front of you has shrunk from 35 inches per seat to as little as 28 inches. But why have seats shrunk? Airlines have been trying to squish more seats into their aircraft, as the overall revenue on one additional seat can amount to millions of dollars, and additional money is great for business.

Seats shrinking is not only uncomfortable, but it also isn’t safe. Many passenger advocacy groups such as Flyers Rights and Travelers United have stated that the addition of new seats and the cramming of passengers into planes could impede evacuation times, since the whole aircraft should be able to evacuate in 90 seconds. If that isn’t possible, this would be considered a safety hazard.

There is also the increased risk of health issues. For flights that are over five hours long, sitting in a cramped seat with little leg room is bad for circulation and can cause blood pooling and clotting in the legs. After a long trip to India on Delta, I could barely feel my legs and felt as if like I was going to collapse as I left the plane. During the flight, I tried to stretch my legs under the seat in front of me, but nothing could avail the shooting pain up my legs. I decided to ignore the pain, as standing up and walking was too much work because I was tired. This was detrimental to my health and the pain was excruciating for hours afterwards.

Though some airlines have given up comfort for money, some airlines, such as Qatar Airways, have kept comfort a priority, leading to better reviews by customers. Qatar Airways was awarded Best Seat Comfort: Middle East in 2018, and, in the end, they get better business.

Hopefully seats will not shrink anymore in the most popular airlines, and we will be able to have a nice rest on a flight instead of wondering how to escape the two people next to you to get to the bathroom.