They still like to call it "economy" or "coach" but to a lot of people it's now just "cattle class" and it's no laughing matter. In fact it could be deadly serious.
Go back far enough, back to the early jetliners such as the 707, the DC-8 and the first 747, and air travel was fun, comfortable and, if you got the right carrier, such as Ward Air or Lufthansa, it might even be a bit elegant.
The 707 and the DC-8 are long gone and so, for most passengers, is any trace of fun or comfort much less elegance. It's all a war of elbows, knees and arses today - oh, and a complimentary bag of peanuts or cookies or some other form of crap. The fun and comfort and elegance, that's for your betters sitting in those neat seats in the front of the aircraft.
Over the decades airlines have focused on cramming as much fare-paying humanity as possible into the available space in the bilges.The seats, even the aisle, have gotten narrower. The "pitch" between the rows, what humankind might call legroom, has been truncated as though, by the doing, your legs might somehow retract into your hip sockets and they do try without much success. There's no extra charge for misery. Deep vein thrombosis is absolutely free.
Now a US consumers group, Flyers Rights, has the FAA before an the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals and the airlines aren't enjoying this one bit.
For years the airlines have been allowed to steadily shrink the size of coach class seats and the space between seat rows without regulators considering the impact of this on safety. A Daily Beast investigation has found:
• The tests carried out to ensure that all the passengers can safely exit a cabin in an emergency are dangerously outdated and do not reflect how densely packed coach class seating has become—or how the size of passengers has simultaneously increased;
• No coach class seat meets the Department of Transportation’s own standard for the space required to make a flight attendant’s seat safe in an emergency;
• Neither Boeing nor the Federal Aviation Administration will disclose the evacuation test data for the newest (and most densely seated) versions of the most widely used jet, the Boeing 737.
Furthermore, the court complained that the FAA had used outdated studies to argue that no change was needed in the way emergency evacuation tests are carried out—and, at the same time, had refused to release details of the test results because they involved proprietary data.
The Daily Beast has since examined more than 900 pages of Department of Transportation documents and FAA regulations that address the way airplane cabins are configured to ensure rapid evacuation in an emergency. All of the tests designed to achieve the fastest possible evacuations were devised decades before the appearance of budget airlines greatly increased the density of seating and, in particular, before the size of seats shrank and the space between each row of seats similarly shrank.
Honey, Does This Seat Make My Ass Look Big?
Furthermore, Hudson is concerned that the space between seat rows has become too tight for passengers to adopt the brace position illustrated on the emergency evacuation instruction cards supplied to every passenger, in which passengers are told to lean forward and cover their heads with overlapping hands to lessen the risk of head and spine injuries in a violent crash landing.