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You Aren't Getting Bigger, Airline Seats Really Are Getting Smaller

 by Ruth Schneider   Posted on November 6 2013

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If you felt a bit squeezed on your last flight, you are not alone.

During the past decade, airlines have been expanding luxury and business class seating to lure extra dollars out of customers. Meanwhile, the available space is shrinking in the back of the plane.

In an effort to maintain the same number of coach seats, widths have been steadily chopped, leaving passengers feeling that squeeze, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.

So, no, it's not you. It's the seat. Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner offers two set-ups in the coach cabin: eight seats across or nine. The majority of Boeing's customers -- about 90% -- choose the nine-seat version, which allows for 16.8" seats.

The Airbus A330, used by 10 airlines, is no better. In its nine-seat across version, the seats are 16.7" wide.

To put that in perspective, look at other seating arrangements:

  • The average Regal Cinemas movie theater seat is 24" wide.
  • Those nice roomy seats you pass by in first class are about 21" wide.
  • Amtrak coach seats are about 20.5" wide.
  • Stadium seats are about 19" wide.
  • The average hip width of a US Air Force pilot -- the standard used for many coach sections -- is 17".

Airlines are trying to distract fliers with more movie and food options.

"With food and TV, people are mesmerized," Emirates President Tim Clark told The Wall Street Journal.

They're also squished.

Coping with the problem

There are ways to ensure a wider seat on your next flight.

If you are willing to pay, many airlines have "premium economy" sections that often have seats that are up to 40% wider than standard economy seats. But, according to, some of those seats are up to 122% more expensive than regular economy accommodations. is a helpful resource for planning out a trip. It offers seat maps for every major airline flying the friendly skies.

In the end, the best way to make sure you don't feel pinched on your next flight is to plan ahead and know what you're getting into -- like cars, each model is different. Make sure you plan for a roomy ride.

And if you do end up feeling the pinch, remember, it's not you, it's them.

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