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. We could’ve had a train to link Chicago to Minneapolis if it weren’t for Walker. While Europe’s train system advances ours regresses.

  2. Chuck,
    I rode on the AVE train from Madrid to Seville. It was smooth, quiet and fast. It was a pleasure riding it. We need trains like that here in the states.

    1. Hopefully if we ever get decent and ubiquitous high speed rail service we won’t again come to the time where we are expected to crunch into “cattle car” accommodations like the airlines are now.

  3. I can attest to Europe’s rail system. Their transportation is so integrated it is remarkable. As an anecdote, I went to see a relative in The Hague. I flew out from the US, landed outside of Amsterdam took an escalator at the airport down to the train station, bout a ticket, stepped onto a waiting train, rode to The Hague’s main station, went up another escalator to the city bus station. Bought a ticket, then took a bus to his bus stop then walked one half block to his home.

    I mapped the entire journey via the internet prior to leaving the states.

    I recognize that there are different issues with rail in the US whereas Europe does not have the vast distances that we do. But in my view the political will isn’t really sufficient or unified to bring about this any time soon. On another note, I don’t have sufficient confidence in our political class to actually make such an endeavor work without endless dithering and high cost overruns and such.

  4. To answer some issued raised.

    High speed rail has no crossings. Routes are handled exactly like interstate highways. Crossing traffic goes under or over the rails, just as on the interstate. However, the crossings are cheaper to build, because there are no “on and off” ramps.

    Barriers are built to keep livestock and people out. The technology is already in use.

    High speed trains are not as noisy as an interstate highway, and certainly not constant like interstate noise. Much of the noise comes from air being displaced by the train as it whizzes by.

    The most efficient means of transportation developed to date is a steel wheel rolling on a steel rail. There is little rolling resistance, and ton/miles per unit of fuel is fractional compared to any other means of transport.

    Compare train seating with the cramped seating on an airplane, as posted in the story at the top. Nobody is going to hijack a train, except maybe in a B action movie, so the level of security needed is lower than airlines.

    Spain is one of the countries most advanced in building high speed rail service. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you AVE Spain:

    1. Chuck – there have been a few train hijackings, probably the most famous was the Dutch one in the 1970s.

  5. Gigi:

    “Most western cities are slow to expand lite rail and bullet train systems, yet they are probably environmentally a worthwhile investment. It’s true they don’t make money, but the purpose is to transport people, not make money.”

    Nooooooooooooooooooo! Trains only make sense if people use them. If they go around half empty, and don’t actually get cars off the road, then they actually cause more pollution than they help. Why spend all the money if we’ll still have gridlock? Why put a train underground in an earthquake state? The cost of the HSR in CA is spiraling out of control, which is not a good investment of taxpayer money. And if the train becomes a financial black hole, requiring unsustainable loads of taxpayer money to stay afloat, with a low ridership showing that the people don’t even want it, that’s patently unfair. We could use that money better elsewhere – programs for the poor, lowering/cleaning up pollution. Pick a cause. Anything but high speed rail. Plus the HSR in Europe is decimating wildlife and livestock. HSR killed 200 reindeer in only 3 months, for example. So, that’s not good for the environment.

    If we were set up like New York, then a subway or train system would take cars off the road. Which would be good. But in CA, we’re not developed like that. It takes forever to get anywhere by train. I recall when my husband needed to get to Idaho to see family, it would have taken him 3 days by train just to get there.

    People take trains for the same reasons they take cruises, to enjoy the journey, not to actually get to a destination quickly.

  6. Mass transit in cities that have had it for generations works well. NYC, Chicago, Boston[except lately] have good systems. But, these new light rails have been, for thee most part, big busts. They are too expensive, too limited in scope, and folks just don’t use them. The funniest one is the monorail in Detroit. What a boondoggle,

  7. Still relevant today is my Sept. 10, 2011 post at my own blog ( While my post primarily focused on national security overreach, there was a tie-in to the abysmal treatment of passengers by the airlines — and most importantly in matters of inferior product/service in an economy that still claims to be capitalist, I emphasized my belief in the need for boycotts by customers. I still feel that way. And I still haven’t flown anywhere since. That airline travel continues to deteriorate does not imply the ineffectiveness of boycotts; it simply means that in this area, not enough customers have yet resolved to not be shat upon.

    Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote then:

    “Between the airlines which already treat their customers like livestock and the security apparatchiki who treat them like criminals, the situation for sentient commercial airline passengers has become intolerable. Yet, like sheep, so many passengers put up with it, applaud it, even bleat for more.

    Several years ago, I decided that I would not fly until the treatment of passengers improved substantially. I haven’t flown since. If enough people simultaneously boycotted the airlines for a sufficiently long time — one year of serious boycott should get their attention — we might see the necessary improvement. Some believe that we should tolerate absurdity and abuse; I suggest that the next twelve months be a self-imposed no-fly year for anyone who wishes to retain any self-respect (and actually see ‘change we can believe in’). Supplement that with a determination not to patronize stores, malls, cities, counties, and states where either rent-a-cops or official law enforcement violate common decency and infringe civil liberties — and inform management, government, and news media in those locations of the reason you are withholding spending. The boycott is a non-violent tactic with a long and largely honorable history, and some notable successes such as during the struggle for desegregation. It is broadly applicable across a wide range of corporate-governmental policies, and it may be the only tactic that corporate America and its governmental lackeys cannot easily dismiss.”

  8. It’s true the west came late to effective mass transit. Nobody wanted subways, this is earthquake country. The bullet we are currently wasting money on is ludicrous. Most LA folk drive to Vegas. You need a car there. LA to SF is a joke. There are unused train tracks where trains used to run. They have begun using Long Beach to LA tracks again. People love it.

    Buses are best, but right now they aren’t in good shape. I don’t see CA having the passengers necessary to restore trains. The cost is incredible. Amtrak from San Diego to Orange County is $45 each way.

    Everybody in CA has a car. Don’t lecture, things here are not close together. Driving is necessary here. We are the size of European countries.

    As for air travel, check overseas flights that have a stop before flying over water. Air France flys from LA to Boston, then France. British Air leaves from LA to NY, then over water. The difference is incredible.

  9. Paul C. S–Phoenix recently connected the airline train to lite rail. Is that what you mean? Most western cities are slow to expand lite rail and bullet train systems, yet they are probably environmentally a worthwhile investment. It’s true they don’t make money, but the purpose is to transport people, not make money.

  10. I guess being short does have one or two perks–one is sitting in coach. Consequently, I always seem to get the middle seat–yuck!

  11. Wadewilliams:

    “Hardly anything that involves more than 50 people is true in all cases.”

    So when you said mass transit was good, and we should get over our inner Luddite, you were entirely mistaken. I’m glad you were able to admit it. Haha! 🙂

    What you REALLY meant is that rapid transit is good in some, but not all cases, and that SoCal is one of the latter. You see, hearts and minds can be won.

  12. DBQ – true. It’s already been proven that the ridership was wildly overinflated, tickets will cost higher than what was told to taxpayers, and this will need to be subsidized.

    And the spiraling $65 billion price tag is expected to double, AGAIN. So, on top of that burden breaking the backs of taxpayers, it will have to be subsidized, because all estimates show the business model won’t be self sustaining.

    Take care of the poor? Why? We’ve got a vacation train for the unions to build at quadruple the cost to pay for! Let’s spend our money where it will do the most good – in the Union’s and politician’s pockets!

    Here’s to Hope and Change.

  13. Wade:

    “And I’m pretty damn sure they will get a train that runs from SF to LA. Let’s not be idiots -”

    Of course they are. The politicians owe the unions a nice, big gift for their help in getting them in office. Too bad that taxpayers voted for something that cost far less. Once they start putting down track, they won’t want a “train to nowhere.” They’ll want a nice, shiny, empty train that is the most expensive fraud ever committed on taxpayers.

    Did you know this green darling got exempted from CA’s environmental laws?

    Is that what not being an idiot looks like? Because from here, it looks like foolishly allowing politicians to engage in graft, fraud, and illegally raiding funds to give to their cronies.

  14. Wade – since you think eminent domain is so wonderful, and acceptable, why don’t you offer up your house, to be bought at far below market value, decimate the property values in the entire neighborhood? Better yet, live in a house that was not taken by eminent domain, but which now lies next to a railroad track that makes your house shake all day and night. Won’t that be wonderful, and for such a great reason – a vacation train for the leisure class to take to San Francisco. Now that’s taking one for the team!

    Instead of voting for what is “good” for other people, why don’t you take the consequences on yourself?

  15. Does turning a 45 minute commute into 3 hours, one way, to take rapid transit in SoCal “good”?

    This is why I don’t like the government doing what is “good” for me. It seems like there are too many people who think that adjective means something very different than I do.

  16. Wadewilliams:

    “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.”

    Actually, eminent domain needs to be used very carefully. How would you like it if the government seized your home? It had better be for a good reason, right?

    It can sound tempting to say that “mass transit is good.” It is good in NY, or places where rapid transit makes sense. Here in SoCal, we are all spread out. Most people, you see, do not like to live in crowded cities like NY. In SoCal, rapid transit is not as popular as in NY. It takes too long to get anywhere, and it costs too much.

    “Mass transit means jobs.” Those jobs are actually paid for with taxpayer money. That’s the difference between the growth of private industry and government. Government growth and spending does mean jobs. Those jobs are a burden on the taxpayer. In our case, Gov Moonbeam is illegally using Cap & Trade funds for a pollution generator, and he’s also using other “revenue”, otherwise known as taxes and fees. By contrast, the growth of private industry means that a business is succeeding, generating jobs AND revenue.

    To say something like “mass transit is good” means that you do not understand the issues and infrastructure involved.

    Is pollution “good”? Is gridlock, which generates more pollution per commute “good?” Is blowing our money on a vacation train that cost way more than taxpayers were told “good”, while we don’t have money to fix our roads?

  17. I have learned there are less crowded flights depending on departure time. Early Sunday flights. Middle of the day Saturday flights. But as I’ve said many times, I wil not fly coach. People I see waiting for flights are probably flying at all because of pricing.

    But getting to the gate is like herding cattle. No, herding cats. I have to use a wheelchair to the gates. Mostly they take you a different way. One time I waited in line and the employee pushing me refused to let them know I was close to missing the flight. That was Portland, Oregon. Avoid flying out of there. Flying in is fine. Drive to Seattle to depart. TSA there has a gestapoesque feel. Rarely does anyone not have to do something further than they already did.

    Friends tell me that since there is metal inside me due to surgery, the forms your Dr. gives you are ignored and you will be X-rayed!

    Let’s face it, right now TSA is a jobs program.

  18. Hardly anything that involves more than 50 people is true in all cases. And I’m pretty damn sure they will get a train that runs from SF to LA. Let’s not be idiots –

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