Air passengers get bigger, airline seats get smaller

Air passengers get bigger, airline seats get smaller (Photo: Ted S. Warren, AP)

Passengers boarding jetliners these days must envy sardines. At least the little fish get some oil before being stuffed into their tins. No such luck for beleaguered fliers.

As any frequent, or even infrequent, flier can attest, in recent years average seat "pitch" — a proxy for legroom — has shrunk, along with the width of individual seats. Average pitch in coach has narrowed from about 35 inches to 31. On some discount carriers, such as Spirit and Frontier, pitch is as low as 28 inches. Average seat width has shrunk from 18 inches to 17 inches or less.

That would be bad enough if passengers had remained the same size. They haven’t.  An average woman who weighed 140 pounds in 1960 weighed nearly 169 pounds by 2014, according to the most recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The average man went from 166 pounds to 196. 

Something’s got to give, and so far it’s not seat sizes.

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