It has always been a central premise of airline economics: The more passengers you can pack onto a plane, the more revenue you can generate from every flight.
So even as the airlines have rushed to one-up each other with the most spacious seats (and suites) in their business- and first-class cabins, they've taken the opposite tack in coach, squeezing ever-more seats into the same space, never mind flyers' whimpers of claustrophobia and discomfort.
Over the past 20 years, coach legroom has decreased from an average of 34 inches to between 30 and 32 inches. That's in spite of the fact that travelers are taller, wider, and heavier.
The latest implement in the airlines' revenue optimization toolkit is the slimline seat. These are coach seats with less padding in the backrest and redesigned tray tables and magazine storage areas. Because they occupy less horizontal floor space than traditional seats, they allow the airlines to add an extra row of seats on some aircraft. And they weigh less, which reduces the airlines' fuel costs.
In a game of inches and pennies, the economic advantages of the slimline seats add up.
The airlines have been crowing about the new seats, as though they were not only good for the airlines' bottom lines but also a positive step for passenger comfort.
A survey conducted this month by TripAdvisor aimed to reality-check that claim, posing the following question: Do you think the new slimline seats some airlines are using in their planes are comfortable?
The results of the poll:
- 4 percent - Yes, more comfortable than traditional airline seats
- 5 percent - I can't tell the difference
- 43 percent - No, less comfortable than traditional airline seats
- 48 percent - I don't think I have experienced new slimline seats
These results have to be taken in context. The sample size was small (1,392 respondents). And slimline seats haven't yet become ubiquitous among U.S. airlines.
But the overwhelming consensus should give the airlines pause: Of those who had experienced the slimline seats, 83 percent found them to be less comfortable than traditional coach seats.
Reader Reality Check
Have you tried the new slimline seats?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.