Is a Place to Sit a Human Right?

As airlines test the limits of how small and cramped they can make their seats, the question is hard to dodge. At what point are they simply denying access to public transportation for people who don’t fit? Two organizations — Travelers United and FlyersRights — are waging a campaign to define a place to sit as a human right.

Right now, airlines are scoring record profits by shrinking seats on their planes and charging people who can pay up to an extra hundred dollars or more for what used to be a standard-sized seat. Seats have dropped to an average width of 17 inches. Legroom (measured by seat pitch) has shrunk from 35 to 31 inches. Spring Airlines wants to introduce “standing” seats with just 23 inches of legroom.

Airlines insist that most people want the cheapest seat possible and they are just meeting the demand.

FlyersRights has petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to set a minimum for seat width and legroom on airplanes. Travelers United is working on DOT’s Airline Consumer Protection Committee to address health and safety concerns associated with inadequate seating. The effect of newly cramped airline cabins on safety in emergency situations has simply not been tested.

USA Today suggests that requiring disclosure of seat sizes might help encourage more competition on the basis of passenger comfort. You can already find this information on sites like SeatGuru.com and the numbers vary quite a bit.

But airlines show no sign of finding a limit to their seat-stuffing strategies. They seem content to write off the people who don’t fit into their seating schemes. Market forces don’t have a great track record for accommodating people with physical limitations.

Click here to read more from the Washington Post and here to read more from USA Today.

Elbows, photograph © Slices of Light / flickr

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September 26, 2015