June 16, 2013 | Kendall Creighton Freshly Squeezed Passenger complaints rise as seats get smaller More flights overbooked Tuesday, June 4, 2013 An economy class seat can be a chair of torture as carriers look for new ways to pump up profits, either by adding to or reducing the number of seats, increasing legroom or cutting the distance between rows. Which airlines are making changes that are not-so-friendly to your knees? Southwest Airlines: In March, Southwest began retrofitting its fleet with a new “Evolve” interior. Each seat is 6 pounds lighter than previous models with thinner cushions. In a blog post on Southwest’s website, the airline admits this allows them to increase the number of seats on board from 137 to 143 on some aircraft. It claims that seat comfort and space isn’t sacrificed, but we’ve heard reports to the contrary. CEO Gary Kelly gave a talk in Vegas where he said that about as many people like Evolve as don’t, so it’s a wash, and the extra seats will bring more revenue. JetBlue: In April, JetBlue added enhanced legroom seats, dubbed “Even More Space”, to its fleet of Embraer 190 aircraft. Conde Nast Traveler reports this has come at the expense of a tighter seat pitch for those seated further back in the coach cabin. United Airlines: When selecting new seats for the cabin overhaul of its Airbus fleet, United went with popular European manufacuter Recaro. Slated to begin next year, United’s 152 narrow-body Airbus aircraft will be fitted with slimmer seats. The airline also claims seat comfort won’t be sacrificed, but the refit will enable an extra row of seats to be added to each aircraft. We’re not convinced. American Airlines: American’s new Boeing 737-800 aircraft has two additional rows of seats more than its other 737-800 configuration. Seat pitch has been reduced by one inch. To mitigate this, the seats do not recline. Instead, the seat bottom slides forward while the back slouches within a shell. In sum, what does this all mean? That having a top-tier elite status is a saving grace, with its complimentary access to the airline’s best seats when flying in coach. Airline squeeze: You wanted the benefits of a fully deregulated industry? Following our ‘Outrage of the Week’ story last week, about a FlyersRights member who paid $1,200 for Delta Economy-Comfort, then was squashed by the large passenger next to him, we heard from irate airline customers: Mainly that airline seats are already too small and personal space is already too cramped. Some blamed corporate greed, reminiscing about the days of regulation, when airline tickets were more expensive, but at least there was a bit of fun and dignity when flying. Really? Let’s examine this. In 2011 Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer (who worked with Senator Kennedy on airline deregulation in the 1970s) wrote: “What does the industry’s history tell us? Was this effort worthwhile? Certainly it shows that every major reform brings about new, sometimes unforeseen, problems.” No one foresaw the industry’s enormous growth, with the number of air passengers increasing from 207.5 million in 1974 to 721.1 million last year. As a result, no one foresaw the extent to which new bottlenecks would develop: a flight-choked Northeast corridor, overcrowded airports, delays, and terrorist risks consequently making air travel increasingly difficult. Nor did anyone foresee the extent to which change might unfairly harm workers in the industry. Still, fares have come down. Airline revenue per passenger mile has declined from an inflation-adjusted 33.3 cents in 1974, to 13 cents in the first half of 2010. In 1974 the cheapest round-trip New York-Los Angeles flight (in inflation-adjusted dollars) that regulators would allow: $1,442. Today one can fly that same route for $268. That is why the number of travelers has gone way up. But how many now will vote to go back to the “good old days” of paying high, regulated prices for better service? Even among business travelers, who wants to pay full fare? Spirit(less) Airlines Only U.S. Carrier To Make List Of World’s Worst A new round-up of the world’s worst rated airlines would seem to confirm that Spirit is living up to its public opinion. BusinessInsider counts Spirit #11 of the 20 worst-rated airlines in the entire world. The only U.S. airline to make the list. The no-frills airline is known for its infurating fees and strict no-refund policy. It prides itself for offering the lowest fares, then charges passengers for everything else. Need an agent to print out a boarding pass at the airport? That’s $10. Want some water? That’s $3. Rolling a bag on board? The tag costs $35 from home and $50 at the airport. In all, there are about 70 fees enumerated in dizzying detail on Spirit’s Web site for customers to navigate. “The fee-for-everything technique allows airfares to be advertised as much lower than the overall cost,” said Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights. While the fees are an annoyance, it is the frequency with which its passengers wind up getting stranded at airports that is its greatest deficiency. Spirit tends to overbook much more often and have more late and canceled flights than other airlines. Those issues, coupled with Spirit’s significantly fewer and consistently full flights mean you are much more likely to wind up stranded at an airport than any other airline. And when this happens, don’t expect them to find a different flight on another airline for you because they won’t. You’re on your own. That’s the Spirit! Read More: NYT TSA Chief Tells Saudis: A Pocket Knife Won’t Bring Down a Plane: You Need an IED Just days after the brutal knife attacks in London and Paris, TSA Administrator John Pistole went to Saudi Arabia to urge that small knives be allowed on US commercial aircraft. “A small pocket knife is simply not going to result in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft,” says the chief of our Transportation Security Administration. “An undetected and successfully detonated improvised explosive device will.” FlyersRights has established a new email, firstname.lastname@example.org, to solicit feedback and ask for your contact info if you would like to get involved, assuming that knives are allowed back on, as TSA’s Pistole has indicated. We believe there is a new wave of terrorism by knife attack, based on the London (soldier butchered with shocking video posted on internet), Paris (soldier stabbed in neck with small knife), China (21 killed by Islamic separatists in area bordering Pakistan) and Texas (14 stabbed by deranged man at a college) all since April. Allowing knives back on airliners could result in carnage not seen since 9/11. FlyersRights’ Partnerships: Flybag™ – the must-have TSA-compliant toiletry kit for the efficient traveler. Enter code: ISTILLFLY and you’ll receive one dollar off AND another dollar will be donated to FlyersRights! Visit FlyBags.com. Check out the FlyersRights Napa Valley wine shop. You can’t miss with any of these great wines. Kate Hanni, founding member Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights Founded by Kate Hanni in 2007, FlyersRights is funded completely through donations and our Education Fund is a 501(c)(3) charity, to which contributions are tax deductible. 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