Several weeks ago on my 2 1/2 hour JetBlue flight, I was in a seat that was 18.25 inches wide and had a 32-inch pitch. Because I am a small person, the very large individual who sat next to me was able to occupy some of my seat. And then the person in front of me reclined.
JetBlue and I feel somewhat differently about the space that I just lost to my neighbors.
Airplane Seat Size
Yes, seat size and people size have always been airline issues. The smaller the seat, the more you can fit on a plane. And more seats mean more revenue per flight. Meanwhile, at 93.3 million people, obesity rates are up to 39.8 percent in the U.S.
A women representing the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) pointed out that the larger people on a plane may not be obese. Very tall people can have similar difficulties. Her goal was to remind us that all kinds of big people can experience discomfort and embarrassment because of airline seat size.
So, what are the airlines to do? They could install several larger seats on every plane and then charge extra. They could mandate a second seat for anyone who needs a seatbelt extender. Or, like Southwest, they could let people buy two or three adjacent seats and then refund the fare for one of them after the flight. One economist even suggested “pay-as-you-weigh” fare plans. No they don’t solve the airline seat size problem and they were universally condemned. But weight-related fares could be more equitable because the airlines’ costs relate to weight.
Our Bottom Line: Marginal Utility
More of us should remember economist Alfred Marshall (1842-1924). A professor at Bristol and Cambridge, he was the scholar who encouraged us to recognize that many of our decisions are at an imaginary margin where we think about doing something extra. Marshall saw that the utility–the usefulness or satisfaction–of something extra helps us decide whether or not to do it. When we sleep an extra 15 minutes, the reason is the marginal (the extra) utility those minutes provide. Similarly, at a buffet our extra portions add to our utility.
Marginal utility also relates to airline seat size. The airlines’ marginal utility diminishes as the seats get larger. For us, each extra inch makes our seat more pleasant.
And indeed, more inches would have made my 2 1/2 hour flight more enjoyable.
My sources and more: The WSJ “Middle Seat” column from Scott McCartney again provided an enlightening look at air travel. From there, my obesity data came from the CDC and this paper had the pay-as-you weigh plans.
Our featured image is from Pixabay.