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Airline Seat Pitch as a Profit Booster?

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Even as airline passenger rights issues advance through Department of Transportation rulemakings, some airlines are actually looking at ways to decrease seat pitch so that they can pack more of us into their already-crowded metal tubes. There is, apparently, no upper limit on ridiculous.

Seat pitch is the distance between rows of seats -- the measurement from the same position on two seats, one behind the other -- it is NOT the legroom area, as some believe. (For example, the back face of the seat in front of you, measured to the same point on the back face of the seat you are sitting in). If they can decrease that distance enough, they can install more seats, and the appalling discomfort of airline coach travel will soar to new heights. There are no FAA standards for seat pitch. As things stand, the airlines can do whatever they want with it.

How much seat pitch do the airlines provide now? The Skytrax site, run by research organization Airline Equality, published a report of current pitch offerings. To see the Americas Airlines report, click here. Just for frame of reference, depending on the airline, first class pitch is between 80 and 94 inches, while coach pitch is between 31 and 35 inches.

So now what? A new product unveiled at a recent trade fair in Long Beach, CA. It's officially called "SkyRider," but is popularly known as a saddle seat. According to a Yahoo News article, these little beauties would decrease pitch to about twenty-three inches! Think about your last, miserable coach ride, sitting in a pitch space in the low-thirties range.

"Hey," say the manufacturers, "Cowboys work all day in a saddle, no problem." Are any of you riders? How long did it take you to get over that hideous, saddle-sore feeling? Did any of you ever notice how funny cowboys walk? Do you want to do a cowboy walk from Gate D5,231 to the baggage area at The William B. Hartsfield Airport?

The obvious discomfort aside, there are serious health and safety issues associated with this design. Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is the formation of a blood clot in a deep vein. The clot can break loose and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. Immobility on long airline flights has been directly linked to DVT formation. In fact, DVT is the second-leading cause of death on airplanes. Think you're immobile in coach now? How about sitting on a saddle for four to six hours? This is not just a matter of inconvenience and discomfort. It is likely to be a matter of life and death!

Another life and death consideration is the ability to quickly evacuate an aircraft. The FAA says in the Code of Federal Regulations that carriers must demonstrate the ability to fully evacuate an aircraft in 90 seconds. Obviously, the closer the seat pitch, the more difficult it is to get out of the row -- especially if you're in a window seat. Do you want to be trapped in an airplane in an emergency just so the airlines can increase their bottom line?

This idea seems ridiculous on the face of it, but then, who thought airlines would ever charge us to move our bags with us, eliminate food service, think about installing pay toilets, open up an onboard blanket and pillow concession, and otherwise nickel and dime us to death each and every time we fly?

What do you think? Visit the FlyersRights Forum and weigh in under the News heading, topic Saddle Seats. While you're at it, take a look at our web site and sign our petition in support of airline passenger rights.