Flying on your next vacation? Get ready to inhale to fit in your seat


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Photo by Bob Nesoff
Photo by Bob Nesoff

New JetBlue aircraft in the hangar at JFK waiting to be rolled out for flight

Airlines have become quite creative in recent years when it comes to squeezing the last dollar out of a passenger’s wallet. They’ve added fees for everything but the air you breathe…and perhaps that’s the next thing on the agenda.

Passenger’s wallets are not the only thing being squeezed by the airlines. The latest is reducing the size of the seats passengers sit in and diminishing the distance between the seat in front of you and your knees.

The idea here is to have the ability to add a few more seats to each flight in order to maximize the revenue potential on each aircraft. If you think flying was fun today, wait until tomorrow. It may be interesting to hear the emergency review prior to takeoff: “Please make sure your seat belt is secured, raise your tray and seat back, bend over and place your head between your knees. You can’t fit? Don’t worry, when the seat in front of you jars loose upon impact, it will secure your head permanently between your knees.” Maybe that’s not so far fetched.

At one time Southwest Airlines was amongst the best to fly. They had a sense of humor (Let’s all flap our arms and see if we can get this sucker off the ground) to take your mind off the fact that your seats were like those on a subway train…facing each other with your knees interlocked with those of the perfect stranger across from you.

Who knows, seating patterns like that may become more popular than online dating. Most of the major carriers have taken up the idea of reducing seat size and pitch (the distance between your knees and the seat back in front of you. It affords them the opportunity to charge extra for more leg room, bulkhead and emergency aisle seats, and myriad other little things that used to be free…remember getting playing cards to take home? Remember having a meal without paying for it? Boy, are you old!

In most cases this does not diminish the professionalism of airline personnel; even though they may become more harried as they attempt to squeeze a beverage cart down a reduced-size aisle. Please keep head and elbows well within your seating area.

There is one notable airline that has declined to join the smaller seat stampede. JetBlue, flying out of JFK and Newark has said it will keep seats at their current configuration.
That should come as no surprise to anyone who has flown JetBlue over the years. It has a loyal core of customers who have stayed with JetBlue from its inception as a small regional carrier to an international airline.

JetBlue, over the years, has established itself as a “passenger first” airline. That’s not to say there aren’t others around, but this one has a history of truly professional and caring service.

Yes, JetBlue has gone along with the imposition of fees, but it’s hard to argue with fees with the rising costs of labor contracts and fuel…especially fuel. Think of what it costs to fill your car and then picture a 747 sucking up almost 539,000 gallons. That could wear out a credit card pretty quickly.

At any rate, the question of fees is basically no longer relevant because they are here to stay. Airlines have collected billions of dollars in fees and they are not about to give that up.

The question at hand is comfort. Picture a flight from JFK to DFW (Dallas/Ft. Worth) and spending some four hours aboard the aircraft squooshed into the new seat configuration.
Not a pleasant thought.

There could be a more critical reason to stop this trend and that would be safety. If flight attendants might have difficulty moving the cart through the narrower aisle, what might be the case in an emergency? Would the narrower aisle cause passengers to jam up and slow debarkation. A few seconds could mean the difference between life and death.

Airline passengers have been like cattle, taking virtually every indignity imposed upon them with nary a whimper. Perhaps now is the time to ask your travel agent or the airline agent at the point of booking: “What is the pitch and width of the seat? Is this the new configurations?”

If the answer is either “yes” or “I don’t know,” perhaps your response might be: “I think I’ll look for an airline that values my business.”