The internet is abuzz about the new patent application from Airbus that reveals a concept which stacks passengers on top of each other – think bunk beds in coach class. The revelation conjures up images of ‘cattle cars’ and ‘sardines’, while renewing petitions for legislation to protect a minimum airline seat size. But is the popular narrative true that greedy airlines continue to cram in passengers like turkey stuffing, to extract as much profit as possible? Yes. But passengers are in favor of it – if it means keeping the cost of air travel down.
Patent applications like the one Airbus just filed are nothing new. Airlines and seat manufacturing companies always try to come up with creative new ways to fit in more passengers, such as the saddle seat and the hexagon concept. Airbus was quick to point out that they file hundreds of these kinds of patents each year, and the patent does not mean the new seats will be on your next flight. But would this really be such a bad idea?
Complaining about cramped air travel has become one of America’s favorite pastimes. It is true that seat size and passenger space has been declining while the average American traveler’s girth has been increasing. The seat pitch, which is the measurement from one point of a seat to the same point on the next seat, has shrunk 2 to 5 inches since 1985, while seat width has also shrunk a couple of inches.
Of course, the upside to all of this is that cost has come down…dramatically. Since 1985, the cost of an average domestic round-trip ticket has declined by an inflation-adjusted 30%! This is even after the airline deregulation that took place in the seventies. Going back just a few more years to 1978, we find that ticket prices have been nearly cut in half!
This leads us to a basic concept in economics. There are things we don’t like, or more accurately things we all wish we had or had more of, such as legroom on an airplane. The question is, at what cost? Alternatively, ask yourself how much are you willing to pay for that extra legroom?