As recession years fade into the past, people take to the skies with confidence, boosting domestic air travel to a record high. More is not necessarily better though, especially when it comes to cramped quarters for passengers wanting a quiet flight.

In early September, Delta passenger Amy Caryn Fine raised her voice and disrupted a flight, forcing the plane to land at the Jacksonville International Airport. When Fine received an unintentional bump to the head from her extended tray, she made sure to let the passenger reclining know. The dispute was enough to cause the pilot to touch down early, instead of landing at the Palm Beach International Airport.

Fine’s flight divergence was one of three incidents to occur in nine days over cramped space and minimal legroom.
More traveling people mean fewer planes for many airlines seeking to make the most out of each dollar. The focus is on filling seats.

Flight 3

With a focus on filling seats, the average airline seat is now a mere 31 inches.

According to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, passengers demanding domestic flights increased 2.5 percent in the past year, with a 2 percent increase for seating. In March, domestic flight capacity reached 85.5 percent, making it a record high for the month.

For frequent fliers like Jack Hutchison, crowded planes are becoming the norm. In the past year, Hutchison flew over 20 different times for his job. The Ringling College of Art and Design sent Hutchison across the country to speak at college fairs and schools.

“Every flight I went on last year tried to give up seats because they were all over-booked,” Hutchison said. “I think there are less planes now and people are comfortable flying again.”

Summer months confirmed the space problem, as over 2 million people traveled from the beginning of June to the end of August, based on information from Airlines for America. Numbers of fliers increased, as inches of seat space shrink. The average plane seat shrank from the comfortable 33 inches to a snug 31 inches, with some airlines ditching the reclining feature completely.

Flight 2

Jean Medina, vice president of communications for Airlines for America, said that every carrier is different and customers have options when it comes to seating. Seating options, passenger courtesy and a simple “request not to recline” are effective ways to avoid dilemma, according to Medina. Besides, full flights result in cheaper flight costs.

“Planes are fuller, a reflection of the fact that flying remains affordable. Fuller flights in turn help keep flying more affordable,” Medina said.

But while airlines front cheaper ticket costs, sneakier fees add up for passengers traveling by plane. On July 21, the Transportation Security Administration doubled the price of security fees for travelers. The Wall Street Journal reports that airlines maneuver costs like baggage and boarding priorities, as well as many other nuance fees, out of the ticket price.
Just in the U.S., there can be 11 different taxes added onto an itinerary. The new TSA fee increases that tax rate from 26 percent to 27 percent, which means while a ticket appears low, airport fees can add up later on.

More fees and less legroom trend with airline travel. In the past decade alone, passenger capacity has increased ten percent.

Despite the summer months ending, airlines might persist with keeping their cabins full, especially as the holidays creep around the corner.