According to the Wall Street Journal, frequent fliers (like yr. obdt.) are finding an old friend on some recent flights: Empty seats. Excerpt:
U.S. airlines are adding larger jets to their fleets and more rows to existing aircraft. The result is more open seats on many flights even as demand for air travel grows.
That is good news for fliers who have grown accustomed to vying for desirable seats and bag space. It’s also a concern for airline investors who believe the industry might not trim capacity enough to protect a record run of profitability.
Shares in the sector have fallen over the past year while traffic has boomed. Delta Air Lines Inc. earlier this month reported tempered revenue expectations for the first quarter in part because of the partial government shutdown. American Airlines Group Inc. also this month cut its earnings expectations for 2018. United Continental Holdings Group Inc., which recently passed Delta as the No. 2 U.S. carrier by traffic behind American, said recently that it plans to expand capacity by up to 6% this year.
“Right now there’s a lot of capacity out there, and I think they’re kind of struggling to fill it,” Bill S. Swelbar, at consulting firm Delta Airport Partners Inc., said of carriers.
Last December, on an evening flight from Newark to San Diego, Mrs. A and I took the aisle and middle seats in our row and were fortunate enough to find the window seat unoccupied, allowing us a comfortable flight. Better still, I once took the 13-hour Osaka-San Francisco flight on the aisle seat of the five-seat middle row, and was the only person in the row; I actually stretched out and slept most of the flight.
But that’s the exception to the rule, and one that brings up another question: Why should it be such a relief to find an empty seat next to yours? The answer is simple: Because normal Economy seats are so cramped as to make flying, especially for those over 5’6″ or so, miserable.
Granted I’m 6’1″, with the normal girth of a late-middle-aged guy. I can nevertheless fit within the confines of my own airline seat – barely. But I was once seated next to a 400+ pound behemoth who spilled into my seat by a considerable margin, and had to demand reseating; to my fortune I was moved into a bulkhead row, into one of the aforementioned empty seats that, to my good fortune, was available on that flight.
The airlines could do a lot to make the desirability of empty seats unnecessary. Two things come immediately to mind: First, increase the pitch between seats back to pre-2000 levels. Second, demand passengers of extraordinary girth pay for two seats.
I don’t think that’s too much to ask.