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Date published: 10/28/2012
LOS ANGELES TIMES
In the skies over America, the squeeze is on.
Legroom on airplanes is going the way of free checked bags, pillows and in-flight meals. Passengers who want a little more wiggle room in their coach seats better be prepared to open their wallets.
The trend for cash-strapped airlines is to charge passengers extra to sit in a new category of roomier economy seats with names such as Big Front Seat and Economy Plus.
But where's this extra room coming from? Ask fliers in the cheapest seats, who are now being packed closer together.
"When I fly, I no longer feel like a passenger; I feel like I'm cargo," said James Mewes, a retired Palm Springs, Calif., lighting company executive. "The seats already do not have enough padding. They have gotten narrower, and the legroom has become smaller."
The move to charge passengers for onboard extras took off in 2008 when the economic recession severely cut demand for air travel, pushing the nation's largest airlines to find new ways to boost revenue without raising fares too much.
Such fees have been so lucrative--generating $22.6 billion among 50 airlines worldwide last year--that airlines have spent the past few years crafting one to let economy passengers upgrade to seats with a few inches of extra legroom.
In the past, the economy section on an average long-haul plane represented about 90 percent of the seats, with first-class seats making up the balance. Today, 10 percent to 30 percent of the spots on a major airline are extra-roomy economy seats, according to industry experts.
To make room for the new seats, airlines have eliminated 10 to 40 standard economy seats per plane. On some airlines, many of the remaining economy seats got pushed closer together even as Americans have grown, well, bigger.
"It's getting to the point where if you are 5-foot-9 and taller, you are hitting your knees on the seat in front of you," said Joe Brancatelli, a business travel expert and author of the website Joe Sent Me. "And if you are more than 5 pounds overweight, a 17-inch-wide seat is too narrow for you."