Air Travel Is Becoming Inhumane, And It Won't Change As Long As Airlines Remain Greedy

by John Haltiwanger

No one likes having his or her space invaded. We all need a little wiggle room and it's anxiety-inducing to feel confined. This is particularly true while traveling. Anyone who has ever traveled on an airplane can likely sympathize with this sentiment.

Let's face it: Traveling is stressful, and it's often extremely uncomfortable.

First, you have to pack and ensure that your luggage isn't too heavy or you'll have to pay extra. Then, you have to get to the airport, check your baggage and make it to security. At security, you might even be lucky enough to get pulled aside to be groped by a total stranger.

You finally make it to your gate, but it's another two hours until your flight, or even worse, it's been delayed.

Finally, it's time to board. Every passenger shuffles quickly into line, despite the fact that everyone has assigned seats and you're all going to the same place. There's really no need to rush, but for some reason, everyone always does.

What's more, you're likely sleep deprived, or maybe even jet-lagged. Like everyone else around you, your patience is wearing thin, and you just want to get to where you're going in peace.

At long last, you get to your seat. You're ready to get comfortable, possibly have a drink, watch a movie and doze off until you reach your destination. However, almost immediately after takeoff, the person in front of you reclines his or her chair, and you have no room to move your legs.

You politely ask the person to return the chair to its normal position, but you're denied. What do you do next? Would you start a fight?

In the past week, two fights have broken out on airplanes over disputes surrounding passengers reclining their chairs. In both incidents, the flights were diverted and forced to land early.

When it comes down to it, flying is becoming increasingly more stressful as airlines continue to decrease the amount of room they provide for passengers. On top of the increase in added fees, planes are getting more and more crowded.

Two decades ago, passengers were given around 34 inches of legroom on a flight. Today, they are only given around 28 inches, and it's only going to get lesser. This is a 10 percent decrease in space.

Why are airlines doing this? Profit. They want to fit as many people on a plane as possible, and also encourage people to upgrade to more comfortable settings in business or first class by paying more for their tickets.

Airlines like Air Canada are a prime example of this, but they are not alone in this strategy. A lot of airline companies from the United States are actively taking out older, more spacious seats and replacing them with smaller, lighter and more confined ones.

The seats not only mean more passengers, but also less weight and reduced fuel costs.

One might argue that the desire to increase profits by denying customers basic comforts is inhumane. It's unhealthy to sit for long periods of time. Furthermore, when people are squeezed into confined spaces, the likelihood of them being able to get up and move around diminishes exponentially.

Moreover, as the Center for Disease Control notes, blood clots are a serious risk for people traveling long-distances:

... Anyone traveling more than four hours, whether by air, car, bus, or train, can be at risk for blood clots. Blood clots can form in the deep veins (veins below the surface that are not visible through the skin) of your legs during travel because you are sitting still in a confined space for long periods of time. The longer you are immobile, the greater is your risk of developing a blood clot... A serious health problem can occur when a part of the blood clot breaks off and travels to the lungs causing a blockage.  This is called a pulmonary embolism, and it may be fatal.

The process of traveling is stressful enough without the lack of space. In fact, in 2007, a neuropsychologist argued that passing through Heathrow Airport induced the same amount of mental stress as encountering a riot.

The decision of airlines to decrease legroom in planes is bad for both the psychological and physical health of passengers. Simply put, the airlines are to blame here, not the people. By seeking higher profits and lowering the quality of air travel, they are increasing the likelihood of confrontations on flights.

As more flights get diverted due to related issues, perhaps airlines will lose profits and change their policies. In a perfect world, they would have a bit more integrity and provide enough space for people to travel in comfort and safety.

Until that time, we might all have to settle for less legroom. Or, you could consider chartering a private jet?

Photo Courtesy: Universal Pictures