Airlines reconfigure seats to squeeze in more passengers

Published On: Oct 15 2013 04:51:38 PM EDT
DETROIT -

If you've noticed a small change the last time you flew somewhere, you're not alone, and you're not imagining things. The major U.S. airlines have continued the trend of adding extra seats to many of the planes in their fleets. You've probably heard this was going to happen, and the airlines are flying quickly away from old bulky seats, and landing with so-called "slimline" models.

The new models take up less space from front to back, allowing for five or six more seats on each plan.

The change in the seating plans helps the airlines in two ways. First they can sell more tickets on each plane and they get a smaller fuel bill because the seats weigh less. The new seats generally have thinner padding. And new layouts on some planes have made the aisles slightly narrower, meaning you might feel that beverage cart bump your shoulder more often than before. The changes come at a time when the airlines are adding better premium seats to the front of the plane, and charging premium prices for the better seats.

Some of the airlines say you won't even notice the changes, but you might have a different problem after you fly.

The Associated Press put together this list of how some of the biggest airlines are looking to maximize their returns on their seating strategies.

  • Alaska Airlines is adding an extra row of seats throughout its fleet, which is all Boeing 737s. It's planning to add power outlets at each seat, a rarity among U.S. airlines.
  • American Airlines is adding five seats on its MD-80s in a project due to wrap up in November. American is still considering whether to add an additional row on its Boeing 737s.
  • Delta is putting "slimline"seats on many of its planes, including its MD-90s, Boeing 737s, 747s and some 757s. Those seats allow Delta to add an extra row on some of those planes.
  • JetBlue plans to replace the seats on its Airbus A320s -- the bulk of its fleet. It hasn't finalized the seat measurements but says it has no plans to add an additional row.
  • Southwest has added an additional row of seats on most of its fleet. Passengers lost about one inch of legroom, although the airline says that changes to the seat design mean no loss in comfort.
  • The new seats going into United Airlines' Airbus A320s are an inch closer together, but the airline says passengers actually have more than an inch of additional space above the knee. It also says the new seats are slightly wider -- but the aisles are an inch narrower. United is also putting new seats on most of its Boeing 737s.
  • US Airways says they have no plans for a big seat overhaul, but it added four additional seats on its Airbus A321s, for a total of 187. It fit them in by putting two new seats on each side of a rear exit row.

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