American Airlines: Squeezing Economy for all it’s Worth

There was a time in the not-so-distant past where air travel was looked on as a luxury. Excited families, important tycoons and international jet setters felt the accompanying thrill that air travel brought with it. Fast forward a few decades later, and “luxury” has taken on new meaning. For first class travelers, fabulous suites and showers in the skies.  Technology has indeed created a temporary “home away from home” environment that would please even the fussiest traveller.

From an engineering point of view though, one must ask the obvious question: How do airlines accommodate every class comfortably if we’re fitting in showers and bedrooms to please first-class travelers?

That’s an interesting thought, especially considering the ongoing restrictions forced on economy travelers the past few years. It doesn’t take much research to figure out that comfort has altogether disappeared from Economy Class.

Tight seat on airplane
American Airlines is squeezing an additional 12 chairs into Economy Class.

American Airlines (AA), once considered an industry giant, has fallen upon hard times. Blame it on a global recession, blame it on pickier travelers – however you want to spin this, the future does not look rosy for the ailing airline.

After dropping their “More Room Throughout Coach” program in 2004, AA reduced legroom and seat width on super-budget carrier flights. Super-budget sounds innocent enough – an affordable, inexpensive, no-frills way of traveling from point A to B right. What does it really mean though?

Now, American is “upgrading” its entire fleet to squeeze more people into less space.  They call it Project Oasis.  In every class of service, it means decreased legroom.  For those of us who aren’t flying in the front of the plane, it also means mini-toilets that are just too small to the removal of seat padding (say again?!), AA super or ultra-budget flights sound more and more like reverse discounts where you pay more for less!

A Raw Deal: A 787-800 carrier was originally fitted for 160 passengers. Recent plans see 172 seats with the extra 12 stuffed into economy

Okay, we’re paying more money for less room. Annoying but expected with the times. A more pressing issue surfaced: Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). We know it as something else: Economy Class Syndrome, a condition that’s actually enhanced by the stuffy conditions of the average economy class carrier. One is typically advised to stretch your legs and go for a walk around economy on longer flights, especially if you’re an older traveller, obese or suffer from Diabetes. What I didn’t know was that DVT isn’t limited to the obvious candidate. Cancer patients, smokers, people using contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy apparently increase their DVT risks by flying economy under these newer restrictions.

Tweet by Sully Sullenberger
Captain Sully Sullenberger, the inspiration for the movie Miracle on the Hudson, is concerned that cramped airline seats could be dangerous in case of emergency

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberg, known for his heroic Hudson River landing in 2009, emphasized safety concerns regarding health and airline regulation with the reduction in space. At first glance, it may not seem all that important. Indeed, if you’re considered an average-sized person with overall good health, you may not be concerned overly much and have lost interest at this point. Bear with me…

It’s no secret that the global population has not only increased in number, we’ve increased in size. Larger people, smaller seats – see the problem?

A second point Sullenberg brought up adds fuel to the fire: “It is way past time to require a minimum airliner seat size and that evacuation demonstrations reflect reality. Lives depend on it.”

Note the keywords: “realistic demonstrations not just simulations.” Can you and the other 171 passengers safely get off the plane during an evacuation?

The bottom line: less room/more seating implies a greater profit margin for the airline, possible DVT for a number of passengers, and failing that, a longer evacuation period for you and your loved ones in case of an emergency landing. AA believes it’s a risk worth taking. Do you?