Over the last few decades, airlines have worked harder and harder to cram more people onto their planes. The more passengers they can carry on a flight, the more revenue they earn.
Passengers may grumble, but ultimately we love cheap flights more than we love legroom and comfort. If the existence of low-cost airlines and their enduring popularity is any guide, the trend toward reducing ticket prices by cramming in more passengers isn’t going away any time soon.
The pinnacle of this trend is a recent move by several airlines to cram as many as 10 people into a single row onboard certain jets on highly valuable routes.
“10 abreast seating,” as it’s known, isn’t new. Large legacy airlines like United are even beginning to try it out. I witnessed this recently on a flight from Hawaii to the mainland. The Boeing 777 on which I flew had a large section of the Economy area featuring rows of 10 people. They’re configured as 3-4-3, with a set of four seats in the middle flanked by two smaller sections of three seats each.
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Airlines likely accomplish this by making each seat smaller. In the age of COVID, that feels like a somewhat risky proposition. Still, the move to seat people ten across allows airlines to fit as many as 20 extra seats aboard a wide-body aircraft. Each new seat produces more revenue, potentially reducing the per-seat cost for everyone else on the plane.
It might not be the most comfortable thing in the world, but with inflation soaring and more people still wanting to travel, airlines will probably try anything to keep costs down and passenger numbers up. When they start asking people to sit on each others’ laps, though, that’s when we’ll know it’s time to stop.