Will the U.S. Government Regulate Airline Seating?

December 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Ever feel like a heard of cattle being herded to market instead of a human being when you board your airplane? The aisle is narrow and your head almost grazes the ceiling. But that’s not the worst part of the experience. Things really begin to feel confining after you have found your seat.

There’s a new movement that’s gaining momentum among travelers: aviation civil rights. Leading this fight for more space are Travelers United and FlyersRights, two advocacy groups seeking the government’s regulation of airline seating. Chris Elliott, who has written articles on Travelpro luggage in the past, wrote an editorial for the Washington Post about the subject. He believes that just as there is legislation that determines safety for steerage passengers on boats and passengers in automobiles, similar laws should guarantee certain travel conditions for passengers.

Economy Class airline seating onboard onboard an Aerolíneas Argentinas Airbus A340-200, enroute from Auckland to Buenos Aires

Economy Class cabin onboard an Aerolíneas Argentinas Airbus A340-200, enroute from Auckland to Buenos Aires. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his editorial, Elliott cites seating changes — the decrease in legroom from 35″ to 31″ and the reduction in seat width from 18″ to 16 1/2″ — as not only an emotional violation of personal space, but a safety issue. Space designated for animals is regulated, so why are airlines being allowed to change how it transports its passengers without oversight?

The fight comes down to politics and the free market. The airlines believe that if you want or need more space, you can pay for it, and that further involvement from the government would not only result in price increases for the consumer, but a stifling of competition within the market.

But Elliott and others counter that, just as the government saw the need to regulate automobiles for safety by requiring seat belts, passengers need laws that will govern their safety while traveling in airplanes.

Decreased legroom and smaller aisles have been cited as potential hazards for evacuation “in the event of an emergency,” and regulation that benefits travelers’ basic human rights was successfully enacted after passengers spent inordinate hours on the tarmac without food, water, or access to bathrooms.

The Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection has just announced it will not make a recommendation on minimum seat sizes. Some believe it will take a tragedy to see change. Until then, it appears consumers will have to either put up or shut up.

Where do you stand (or sit)? Should the government regulate airline seating sizes, or should they let the market dictate? Do you pay for the extra room in economy plus or business class? Or do you suffer in silence in the smaller seats? Leave a comment below or
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Boeing Patents New “Cuddle Chairs”

September 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The name sounds weird, but “cuddle chairs” may change the way we travel and sleep on planes.

Boeing has recently patented a new travel chair that will allow passengers to sleep more comfortably by leaning forward into a backpack-like extension.

Boeing is calling them “cuddle chairs.” You sleep upright with your face resting against the cuddle chair, which attaches to your seat. It has a place for your face, so you can easily breathe. It’s like the hole on a massage table when you lie face down.

It’s nice to see Boeing think about customer comfort, but we’re not sure that cuddle chairs are going to cut it. Titling forward is not that great ergonomically sound although it may be better than other popular sleep options, such as slumping over sideways in your seat and leaning on whoever happens to be seated next to you.

Tilting forward could put a strain on your lower back, so we’re wondering if they have done research on the positioning. I was talking with Scott Applebee about this recently. He has a background in office furniture and he says that good office chairs should have a slight backward tilt to it, which you obviously won’t get from the forward lean of the cuddle chair.

The backward tilt opens up your body cavity a bit so you’re not putting stress on your lower lumbar. You don’t really even want to sit up straight, let alone forward. There are ways to lean forward but still keep your back in a good position but it doesn’t look like the cuddle chair will let you do that.

Another thing that concerns us is the feeling of being trapped by a device you strap around your head. Will the cuddle chairs really be all that cuddly? We’ll have to actually experience the cuddle chair before we decide if it will really work.

What about you? Will you try the cuddle chair if it’s ever available? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

Video credit: The Patent Yogi (YouTube, used with permission)

Airplane Seats Really ARE Getting Smaller

August 6, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Travel writer Peter Greenberg is confirming what we’ve believed all along: airplane seats are getting smaller, as is the space between them. Airlines have found ways to incorporate lighter, slimmer seats, which allows them to pack more seats onto the planes.

Worse yet, they’re even shrinking the size of the airplane bathrooms.

A seat graphic on a Song airplane.

A seat graphic on a Song airplane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many carriers are adding the extra seats to shorter flights, although that is certainly not the case across the board.

One trend we’ve noted in conjunction with the smaller seats is that airlines are offering seat upgrades (so-called “comfort seats”) for folks who are willing to pay extra to sit in a seat that’s a tad roomier or comfortable. Let’s be clear that we are not talking about first class seats. These seats are another option between a standard seat and a first class seat. This is one of the many ways that airlines are increasing their add-on income.

Recently, one of our employees flew on an older plane to Europe and said the he has never sat in a seat with less legroom. He couldn’t even put the arm rest down between himself and his wife. The airline offered comfort seats, which cost $75 to $80 more for the 11 hour flight. He was on the aisle but was crammed into a small space. He handled some of the stress of the flight by moving around and getting up to walk around the plane whenever possible.

One way to make sure this horrible fate doesn’t happen to you is to check SeatGuru.com as a way to check out your seats on a particular plane before you book, so you can buy an upgrade if it looks like the standard available seat is an extremely tight fit or their is a electrical box underneath your feet. You can enter your information and a seat map for your plane will pop up along with comfort recommendations for the various seats.

Are you willing to pay for seat upgrades? What’s your minimum threshold where you’ll put up with the discomfort before you pay the fee? Let us hear from you here or on our Facebook page.

Planes Filled to Peak Capacity to Keep Up With Demand

November 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Remember when it was common to be seated in a airplane row with multiple empty seats you could stretch out on? It seems those days are gone. It’s now more likely you’ll hear flight attendants say, “Today’s flight is completely full, so please store small items under the seat in front of you.”

That’s more than a feeling. The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics says 2013 was a record year for flying, with 83.1 percent of all seats filled — the highest rate ever. Although it may seem annoying to the weary traveler to face seats filled completely around you, the fact of the matter is that the more seats an airline fills, the more efficiently it’s operating.

English: inflight service by a stewardess

Inflight service by a flight attendant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Think of an airline like a rental truck you rented to move your furniture to a new house. Is it better to fill your truck up and make one trip or fill it halfway and make multiple trips? Which costs more? Which saves you more time and money?

The answer is pretty obvious.

Airlines want to fill up every flight so they’re fully utilizing their capacity and generating the greatest profit for the lowest cost per passenger. Every single flight carries fixed costs like gas, the pilots, and the flight attendants, among many other costs. That’s true whether you’re carrying one passenger or 400. But if you can carry 400, your cost per passenger drops significantly.

In 2013, although there were more travelers than ever, there were also fewer flights. More people are flying for business and for pleasure than ever before, but airlines are reducing the number of flights to ensure they’re as full as possible.

What seems inconvenient is actually greater efficiency on the part of airlines compared to how they used to operate in the past. And while we may not care so much about the airline’s bottom line, it’s nice to know the airline is more likely to stay in business, so we can get to where we need to go the next time we need a flight.

While it may be a pain and make us uncomfortable, this is going to be business as usual for the airline industry for the foreseeable future. So it’s important that we adapt and find new ways to be comfortable and enjoy the flight.

KLM Introduces Innovative Boarding Technique

May 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The premiere airline carrier of the Netherlands, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, has introduced a new method for passengers boarding planes in an effort to improve efficiency.

Replacing the standard boarding procedures will be a new, numerical process that will assign each passenger a number as they reach the boarding gate. That number corresponds to their seat number, and as that number is displayed by screens on the boarding gate, the passenger is allowed to board the plan and find his or her seat.

English: Aircraft: Boeing 747-406M Airline: KL...

Aircraft: Boeing 747-406M Airline: KLM – Royal Dutch Airlines at Schiphol Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This new procedure will, of course, allow priority members, those with reduced mobility and passengers with children to be seated first.

After those individuals have been seated, the other passengers will be seated starting in the rear and working towards the front. Travelers with window seating will be seated first in each row, followed by middle seats and finally passengers seated in the aisle.

KLM designed the process with hopes to minimize the overall waiting time and increase the passenger experience. Instead of having to waste time idle in line, travelers can spend that time relaxing in the lounge. Because each seat is assigned a number as they reach the gate, there will be no confusion about sitting in another passenger’s seat.

The new process has been seen by many as a much-needed improvement for the traveler. However, a red flag has been raised. Some travelers are concerned that having to wait to be called to board will decrease the chance they will be able to use the overhead bins for carry-on luggage. While this may be a small complaint, it is one that must be addressed if the boarding technique is to be seen as a success and adopted by other airlines.

The current boarding technique is occurring on a test run with select flights. If all goes well, the procedure will be expanded to other flights in the coming months.

If you had to design a plane boarding procedure, what would you come up with? Any suggestions?

A New Adjustable Seat That Gives You More Room

May 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Tired of cramming into a tiny seat while your five year old looks like, well, a five-year-old sitting in a grownup seat? Don’t you wish you could shift the arm over just a couple inches to give your hips a little relief?

The Morph airline seat, by British company Seymourpowell, allows the width of seats to be changed, giving a more comfortable flying experience for everyone. If the normal seats are too small — a common complaint — you can adjust the width of the seat which, admittedly, will narrow the seat next to you.

While we like the idea of a little extra hip room, we have a few concerns for both passengers and airlines.

Out of Context

So, what if you could change the width of one of these to suit your hips? (Photo credit: mikecogh)

The benefit of the Morph seat is the ability to accommodate passengers of varying width. Small children can have the seat moved in, while larger passengers can expand their seat. And since the seats are made with fabric, the adjustment will be easy.

However, would airlines charge passengers more for wider seats? And what will that do for passengers with smaller seats? Will they be given a discount for reducing their, uh, footprint? And how will airlines monitor the system? Some passengers might want to save a few bucks and request a smaller seat when they really need an average one. The problem is that the airlines won’t know if the passenger will fit until he or she arrives.

And what about unsold seats? If two passengers request larger seats in the same row, there may be a very small seat that no one wants. If it’s the last seat, it can go unfilled, which is great for the two passengers, but is a problem for the airline. Will the cost of the wider seats make up for the lost one? And if so, how much more will the wider seats cost?

We don’t think the Morph Seat is a bad idea. In fact, it’s a great concept for passengers with small children. Parents can get the larger seat, while children can get the narrow seats. But we suggest only having a few rows of Morph seats per flight, to avoid the issue of unsold seats and raising ticket prices to offset the losses.

The current up-selling on flights has given the passenger more options like larger seats and more leg room in first class and business class, as well as Economy Plus. These options add choice, but also add complexity. The Morph seat is especially complicated because it came about right after the Airbus regulation that all airlines must offer at least an 18-inch seat width to all passengers. Only time and trial will tell if this concept will be a success on economy flights.

Airlines On Endless Quest for Better Boarding

October 24, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve ever wondered why airlines board flights the way they do, you’re not alone. After waiting to board (and disembark from) one too many flights, University of Illinois astrophysicist Jason Steffen decided there must be a more efficient method, and decided to see if he could find it. His recommendation? The best system would be to space the boarding passengers two rows apart, while filling window seats first, then middle and aisle seats.

It doesn’t take an astrophysicist to realize that most boarding methods are inefficient, as most passengers must block the aisle while stowing their baggage in the overhead compartments. Perhaps even more frustrating is the process of exiting the plane – those stuck in the rear of the plane must wait for everyone on the flight to retrieve their carry-on bags from the overhead bins.

Airline seatsCurrently, the vast majority of airlines board in groups, with first-class and other elite passengers boarding first. From there, some airlines opt to board from the rear to the front, while others fill the window seats, then the aisle. Other airlines (such as Southwest) allow passengers to sit wherever they please – and pay extra for the opportunity to board first.

Some airlines are testing out new boarding methods. For example, American Airlines is allowing passengers without carry-on luggage to board first. United has cut down their boarding groups from seven to five and have added additional boarding lanes to cut down on traffic jams at the gate. According to United’s CEO, this method has already resulted in a 60% decrease in boarding-related departure delays.

The time delay isn’t just frustrating for passengers, it’s also costly to the airlines themselves. Researchers from Northern Illinois University recently found that every minute added at the gate resulted in a $30 increase in costs. It can also result in flight delays and missed connecting flights. In other words, it’s in an airline’s best interest to test better methods.

Do you have any thoughts on how airlines can improve the boarding process? Share with us in the comments section.

Photo credit: camknows (Flickr, Creative Commons)

United Airlines Launches Subscription Plan for Baggage, Legroom

August 6, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re a frequent traveler who racks up baggage fees faster than you rack up airline miles, you may be pleased to discover that United Airlines has recently launched a new program to help their most frequent fliers save money. The airline has rolled out two new individual subscription options that offer their customers access to Economy Plus seating or pre-paid baggage fees.

“The Economy Plus and checked baggage subscriptions offer our customers more of the comfort and convenience they value year round,” said Scott Wilson, United’s vice president of merchandising and e-commerce. “We are pleased that, as we launch these services, we are able to provide new options for customers to tailor their travel experiences.”

English: United Airlines Boeing 777 (N223UA) t...

English: United Airlines Boeing 777 (N223UA) taking off from Los Angeles on Christmas 2010, wearing the post-merger livery combining the United name with the Continental logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

United’s new baggage subscription plan (which will presumably be one of the more popular options) works as follows. The basic plan (which covers flights within the continental US) starts at $349 per year and allows one traveler to check one bag per flight. From there, the package can be upgraded based on the traveler’s needs.

For example, travelers can pay an extra $30 per year to check two bags per flight, as opposed to one, and additional travelers can be added onto the plan at $100 per person, per year. The plan can also be upgraded to cover all of North and South America at an additional $100 per year, or global travel at an additional $450 per subscription.

Travelers who frequently pay extra for the Economy Plus option (which offers seats that have more leg room and are located at the front of the cabin) may want to spring for United’s new Economy Plus subscription plan. Starting at $499 per year, this plan allows fliers to upgrade to Economy Plus for no additional fee.

The real question is – are these plans worth it? That depends. United Airlines’ standard baggage fee is $25 per bag, per trip. This means that those who subscribe to United’s basic $349 per year baggage plan would have to make seven or more round-trip flights within the year to come out ahead. In other words, casual travelers may want to stick to paying their fees on a per-flight basis. But for those who find themselves up in the air quite often — say, once a month or more — this plan may result in major savings.

What Will Air Travel Look Like in 2050?

June 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

For anyone who enjoys sci-fi and futuristic views of what our lives will be like decades from now, this article is for you. According to BBC Travel, Airbus recently released its predictions for what air travel will be like in 2050 — which isn’t that far away anymore.

Within the airline industry, Airbus expects a variety of mechanical and operational improvements to be made, primarily in the name of reducing operating costs. Reducing the weight of airplanes, and subsequently reducing fuel costs, will be of utmost importance moving forward. In fact, many of the past innovations in air travel have had to do with building lighter aircraft, so many people are wondering what type of innovations are next.

Print shows a futuristic view of air travel over Paris as people leave the Opera. Many types of aircraft are depicted including buses and limousines, police patrol the skies, and women are seen driving their own aircraft

Print shows a futuristic view of air travel over Paris as people leave the Opera. Many types of aircraft are depicted including buses and limousines, police patrol the skies, and women are seen driving their own aircraft. 1 print : lithograph, hand-colored. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Taking into account lighter airplane construction materials and with improved engine technology, Airbus’ report suggests that future aircraft will glide down to land, will allow airlines to have shorter runways and passengers to have smoother flying experiences.

In aircraft cabin innovations, Airbus suggests that cabins in future airplanes may have a transparent roof, or skylights. This would allow travelers to take in a more encompassing view while they fly. Virtual reality cabins have also been mentioned when it comes to futuristic aircraft design – airplanes of the future could include a virtual reality cabin that simulates a night club, cocktail lounge, or golf course.

If these changes sound a little too “Star Trek” for you, some more feasible changes that may be taking place are seats that are made of recyclable materials and give passengers more head and leg room. In fact, we recently wrote a blog post about futuristic airline seating changes where we talk in more detail about what future passengers can expect.

These improved and more functional seat options provide personalized ventilation systems, added privacy, and technological integration. Other more likely changes that we think we’ll see by 2050 include auto-bag checking and smartphone boarding passes becoming the norm instead of the exception. And as airports strive to compete with other forms of transportation and with other airports, many airports already have plans in the works to offer customers high-end shopping and dining experiences to travelers.

Something to keep in mind is that there may be less airline travel altogether because of other modes of transportation growing in popularity (such as high-speed light rail). Air travel could potentially become primarily used for distances longer than 10-12 hours or overseas, which will practically require airlines to offer higher-quality seating, in-flight wireless internet, and other technological integration as a standard offering in order to compete.

2050 isn’t really that far off, so it will be interesting to see what type of innovations will happen over the course of the next several decades in travel industry.

Airplane Seats Are Still Getting Smaller

June 4, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

The airline industry has a lot of potential for innovation, as evidenced by a few of the recent articles we’ve posted. For example, one of the topics we’ve discussed lately is upcoming innovations in air travel. We’ve also covered potential innovations in airline seating, but here’s one trend on the rise that we’re not too excited about: smaller airline seats.

One trend we’ve seen and will continue to see is airlines finding more ways to cut costs, whether that means using lighter weight materials to construct airplanes or using biofuels to power jet engines. And now a report from NBC confirms that seats in airplanes have indeed gotten smaller.

English: New interior on Delta Air Lines' Boei...

English: New interior on Delta Air Lines’ Boeing 737-800 fleet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Evidently, many airlines have taken 130-passenger seat cabins and expanded them to 150-passenger seat cabins to gain additional revenue — space that has primarily been found by using smaller seats. Some airlines are even looking into making those tiny airplane bathrooms even more compact in an effort to squeeze another row of passengers into the cabin. Taller individuals beware!

Another reason airline seats are feeling smaller is that planes are more crowded now than they have been in years. In the past, overbooked flights would have no problem finding a passenger or two to take a later flight in exchange for ticket vouchers. But because flights are so full, the next flight out may not be for a while. Thus, finding passengers to voluntarily take another flight is becoming more and more difficult. Passengers may not enjoy being packed elbow-to-elbow with the person next to them, but even more than that, passengers dislike being marooned in an airport for hours while they wait to board another flight.

Regardless of the uproar that ever-smaller seats, a shrinking on-board bathroom, and more crowded flights might cause with airline travelers, these frustrations outweigh the inconvenience of finding alternative transportation. Although, with the potential future changes in the travel industry such the growing popularity of light-rail systems, airlines may find themselves having to provide improved accommodations to customers just to keep them coming back for more.

The NBC report also said that even though customers continue to find reasons to complain (such as discomfort from small or crowded conditions), airlines are making improvements in timeliness and remaining on schedule. Perhaps what travelers will find is that in exchange for getting to their destination without delays, they must sit in cramped quarters for the duration of the flight. And as an alternative idea, we suggest that you consider taking up an airline’s offer of vouchers for a free flight if your plane is overbooked. Just make sure that those vouchers are in first class.

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