Things That Tick Me Off: The Ever Rising Profits For Airline Companies and The Ever Shrinking Space For Airline Passengers

220px-Spirit_Airlines_N587NK220px-United_Airlines_-_N14219_-_Flickr_-_skinnylawyer_(1)As many of you know, my pet peeve is the declining comfort and services on U.S. airlines. From endless charges to new “bench seating”, U.S. airlines have shown open contempt for passengers who are treated as virtual cattle. Moreover, despite a long history of going to Congress for favors and subsidies, the airlines have a consistent record of ripping off passengers, including refusing to pass along huge savings from fuel prices in ticket prices. Now an interesting display shows the difference of leg room (another pet peeve) on airlines. The winner for the best treatment of passengers is Jet Blue which offers 34 inches to coach passengers. The worst is not surprisingly Spirit, whose CEO has previously admitted that he virtually prides himself of lousy service and comfort. The airline competing with Spirit as a virtual menace for passengers in terms of leg room is United at 30 inches. So below is the ignoble list of airlines and their ever diminishing space.

First, let’s be clear: the airlines have had a record year of profits. They simply refuse to lower ticket prices or more importantly improve passenger comfort. These airlines constantly excuse adding fees for things like bags due to fuel costs but then keep the charges when fuel costs fall. It is called gouging. At the same time, because people are now piling bags on airlines to avoid obscene charges, airlines routinely tell people who are paying to check bags not to use the upper bins for their briefcases or coats. So you are forced to stuff your belongings under your feet so that airlines can continue to pay this baggage fee scheme with passengers.

Jet Blue is interesting in the best positions for legroom on economy seats among the major U.S. airlines since it moved previously to reduce space.

The airlines, particularly United, appear to be working off the premise that by torturing passengers they can get passengers to paid extra for slightly better seats in coach plus. United is particularly aggressive in selling different seats in coach depending on the level of cramping and inconvenience. It is a perverse incentive since the sale of higher priced economy seating depends on how miserable you can make those passengers unwilling to pay more. At this rate, United will be introducing an “Iron Maiden” seat for those insisting on paying the simple economy fair.

Delta and American and US Air are little better of course at 31 inches. My problem is that a 6 foot, I get kneecapped on many flights and I can no longer work in economy because there is no room to open a simple laptop. First class has become what coach once was and coach has become what baggage holds once were on U.S. airlines. This does not even include the terrible food (if you can get it) and aging aircraft. I have found major foreign airlines like Air France to be generally better in terms of comfort.

Here is the space differences:

JetBlue 34

Virgin/Southwest 32

Delta/America/US Air 31

United 30

Spirit 28

The measurements are for the smallest configuration in economy seating offered on two common, comparable single-aisle aircraft: the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.


107 thoughts on “Things That Tick Me Off: The Ever Rising Profits For Airline Companies and The Ever Shrinking Space For Airline Passengers”

  1. DBQ

    Well, well, well.

    I bet we could even drop your qualifier of bad breath and slovenly and still you would rather have the military take care of your pat down.

    But no racists here, are there.

  2. Mass transit is good. Mass transit is good for business. Mass transit means jobs. American Exceptionalism is innovative.

    That all may be true… many cases, but not all cases.

    However, when the business model sucks rotten eggs and doesn’t make any fiscal sense….the business model is bad business. There is zero chance that this model, bullet train to nowhere, is going to make any money or even be self sustaining. It is a bust from the beginning and the tax payers are going to have to pick up the tab.

  3. Eminent domain happens for air, road, and train travel. And oil pipelines. Sometimes even for private development. Oh wait. That is private development.

    Mass transit is good. Mass transit is good for business. Mass transit means jobs. American Exceptionalism is innovative.

    Overcome the Luddite in you.

  4. Well, if I have to go through a security pat down, I’d rather get groped and felt up by a young good looking marine or soldier in uniform than some slovenly fat black woman with bad breath.

    There is that….you know.

  5. That’s what we need! Military police in all our soft targets. Just like Myanmar.

  6. And metrolink and Amtrak ridership has been plummeting. BART and other bus systems usually ride around empty anywhere except SF.

    Rapid transit does not work in SoCal. I priced out the train to get to my husband’s shop. It would have made a 45 minutes trip take 3 hours, and cost an armload.

  7. I think only those who voted for Gov Moonbeam Brown should lose their houses to eminent domain for the Train Browndoggle. If you didn’t vote for the train or him, you should be exempt.

    Oh, and that brings me to another problem. HSR is nothing like what was sold to naive voters – it costs many times more, share tracks, requires train changes, the ridership estimation was proven to be wildly inflated, will require subsidies because it’s anticipated to lose money, has a net negative environmental impact, tickets will cost more – almost as much as flying, and it will take a lot longer to get there.

    How many people do they think will ride this $65 billion gift to unions?

    All while SoCal suffers heart attacks and road rage from the gridlock.

    And when they do use our taxpayer money to miserly expand a lane or build new freeways, they make them toll roads or carpool lanes. So you still have to pay to use it. They just took away the manned toll booths, so now you have to have a transponder to enter the toll roads. They bilk millions of dollars a month out of cash strapped Californians, as well as out-of-towners, in this bad economy.

  8. The communities actually impacted by high speed rail don’t want it.

    Think about it. How would you feel if the government built train tracks by your house so your whole house will rattle every time it goes by, day and night. Good luck selling your house.

  9. CA High Speed Rail . . . don’t you mean low speed rail?

    CA has some of the worst roads in the nation, between the potholes and gridlock. And what do we do? We commit $65 billion and rising to a vacation train from San Francisco to LA. How many of those cars stuck in gridlock are commuting to San Francisco? We can’t even pay to fix all the potholes, so we blow money on a vacation train? Plus it shares the tracks in several areas. It will cost almost as much as a plan ticket, take several hours and require changing trains twice, it seizes property by eminent domain, leaving other properties nearby with their market value wrecked, the engineers will drain any underground water they find, destroying wells in rural areas, and the latest proposal is to put 21 miles of it underground, in an earthquake state, by a fault line!!!!!

    Seriously, what kind of maniacs support this? I was speaking with one of the hydrologists the other day, and I said, you know, the first time someone parks their car on the track to commit suicide, no one’s going to survive, right? And he said he knew. They would probably make a great movie about the disasters, between that and tunneling underground by a fault line. If the tunnel collapses, I don’t see how they would ever be able to dig the bodies out. High speed rail has been an environmental disaster in Europe, where it decimates wildlife and reindeer herds, because the train moves too fast for them to get off the tracks.

    Plus, this green darling actually produces a net negative for the environment, rather than reducing emissions.

    AND it will need to be refurbished every 35 years.

    I’ve actually followed this topic very closely. It sounds really neat to have a sleek high speed train barreling all over the country at warp speed, but the reality is expensive, pollutes, and drains the coffers from actually fixing our roads.

    Gridlock is the reason why most people leave SoCal, so we blow our money on a pork project that is a gift to the unions that bought CA politicians.

  10. Randy,
    Recall Air Midwest Flight 5481 out of Charlotte in January 2003? The airplane had been worked on at a private facility in West Virginia. The lead mechanic had never worked on the aircraft type, a Beechcraft 1900D.

    He set the elevator control cable tension turnbuckles incorrectly and not according to the manual. There is supposed to be a post-adjustment test to check elevator throw angles, but the supervisor told the mechanic to skip this step. I guess when you are paid to get stuff turned around, and have no personal investment in the job, it is OK to skip steps. The result was insufficient elevator throw to the down position, leading to insufficient pitch control in the tail-heavy airplane.

    I always made it my practice to warn the mechanic before starting any maintenance or annual inspection, that when the job was completed, we were going to take the plane out for a test flight….together.

    Here is the NTSB computer animation of the last flight of Air Midwest 5481. The animation is based on a compilation of information from the flight data recorder, cockpit voice recorder, recorded radar data, and aircraft performance data.

  11. (instead of the daily riders like will be the case in the West)

    I mean that you will NOT have a bulk of daily uses on the California bullet train.,

  12. Randyjet – isn’t the lowered bar of Affirmative Action grand? Also, you raise a sobering point that outsourcing maintenance can have disastrous consequences.

  13. Wade

    The east coast has an already established infrastructure for rail travel. The distances traveled in the east are not as large as those in the west. Short hops from bedroom communities to urban centers. The Bay Area has a pretty good system that IS similar to the east coast. BART. These are trips that a larger group of people take daily from home to work and back. This is similar to the set up in the Eastern Coastal areas.

    A long distance trip, such as the one from SF to LA is not going to be a daily occurrence. It will likely only be used mostly by those who are going one way, or who will have a considerable amount of time between the outgoing and return trip. Tourists and pleasure riding and NOT daily commuting.

    In order for a transportation mode to be able to have a sustainable business model, it needs to have a core ridership that will be the same numbers (or about the same) on a daily basis, or a regularly anticipated basis in order to generate a base amount of revenue to cover fixed expenses and on which they can base a budget.

    In other words. If you have a train full of people going to work each and every day, you can count on that revenue. Like the commuter trains in the East. If you have occasional riders and a widely fluctuating ridership (instead of the daily riders like will be the case in the West) the company has no way to assure that it will have a steady stream of revenue.

    When this happens the business goes out of business. However, in this case the propping up of the train to nowhere will be done by the taxpayers of the State, most of whom have no desire to ride on the nowhere train and will never use the facility.

    They are two completely different business models. There is no comparison as to what works in the crowded eastern corridor with its shorter commutes and the wide open and longer commutes in the west.

    1. DBQ – Phoenix, which is one of the largest cities in the United States does not have passenger train service. We have to drive at least 90 miles either north or south to pick up a passenger train.

  14. Airline fares are high because:

    1) Lower competition. Only 4 carriers handle about 85% of airline travel today. If government does get involved, it should analyze how to improve competition, not just regulate, which tends to favor the corporate giants.
    2) Airlines hedge fuel costs by locking in prices for months. So since oil prices fell so dramatically, some airlines are actually still locked in at a higher price.

  15. John – I would rather the military did airport security than the TSA. I’ve read whistleblower articles by former TSA employees that were just awful.

    The military could rotate troops through on airport security detail, since it does involve national security. The rotations would prevent the brain fog inherent in most TSA jobs. And if a terrorist did show up at an airport, they would be better equipped to handle it than the people TSA hires.

  16. DBQ

    Works pretty well on the east coast. Why is CA so different?

    I think your view is short-sighted and driven by ideology. People like train travel. You have noted the reasons why.

  17. The aging aircraft really gives me pause. As well, one of the problems with the Asian airlines is that they keep frenziedly hiring pilots to keep up with demand, with the result that their pool of pilots do not have the experience and training they need.

  18. I foresee that ticket prices will eventually fall to $50. But there will be fees for checked baggage, carry-on, being seated, access to a bathroom, pressurized cabin fees, fees to cross international airspace, and fees for breathable air.

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