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United’s New Slimline Seats Are Torture

United’s new slimline coach seats are working. They’re getting the job done for United shareholders, that is. For passengers, thin is not in.

During an earnings call today, Jim Compton, Chief Revenue Officer for United, revealed United will fit a lot more bodies—the equivalent of 14 additional planes—onto its aircraft by the end of the year. United is accomplishing this via thinner plane seats.

The airline has reduced seat pitch by positioning rows closer together and installing thin, lightweight plane seats, thus making economy class even more crowded. By now, United is a third of the way finished with its slimline installation.

But it’s not just United. According to Skift, “United, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and American are all adding slimline seats to squeeze more revenue out of each aircraft by increasing the number of seats, coaxing additional ancillary revenue, and enhancing fuel efficiencies.” Everyone’s doing it.

The seats are called “slimline” because they have less bulk and padding. A reduction in padding allows the airlines to move rows closer together without losing too much pitch. On some aircraft, pitch will remain the same even with the addition of slimline seats. Other planes will lose an inch or two of seat pitch.

Even if you can’t detect a reduced pitch, you might notice a slightly more crowded cabin—fuller overhead bins and longer lines to board and disembark. There will be 14 planes’ worth of passengers shoved into United cabins by year’s end.

Economy-class cabins are like overcrowded colonial prisons, but with worse food. This isn’t by accident. The more uncomfortable coach-class flying becomes, the more willing passengers are to scrape up 12 bucks for Early Bird Check-in, pay a little more for ChoiceSeats in the exit row, or desperately pursue points in an attempt to gain status. The New Yorker says as much in an essay on the deteriorating conditions of economy-class flying. All in all, increasingly a la carte pricing plus more seats on planes amount to crappier conditions for the average flyer.

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