Consumers Seeking Airline Legroom

Alert for the millions of airline passenger knees — American Airlines will give them three to five extra inches of space in about a year.

Hooray for small favors. One would think that buying an airline ticket for a seat on the plane would include knees along with toes and torsos. But since airline deregulation over twenty years ago, passengers, who do not fork up the dollars for a first class seat, are treated more as cattle than as customers when it comes to space. But the six-footers have been grumbling ever more loudly as their lower extremities move from being cramped to being crushed (especially when the person in front of them reclines that seat), to losing circulation and sometimes going numb.

One physician, traveling from the U.S. to London a few years ago, had such circulation problems from cramped quarters that he came close to losing his life. Fortunately he recovered.

For the airlines, cramped seats mean more seats per linear foot and therefore more people in the cattle car. Since all the airlines did the same, give or take, letting people continue their circulatory functions was not a competitive advantage for coach class.

If you want to separate you knees from the firm upholstery, you have to pay extra for first class, business class, or something United Airlines calls Economy Plus.

Last August United Airlines announced more leg room for a price, or if you have special frequent flier totals. Not good enough, for it defies the basic principle of equal opportunity knees and undermines the widespread desire by passengers for whole body tickets.

The Federal Aviation Administration has no minimum leg room standards. Pain, bruises and blood clots are not viewed as part of the FAA’s concerns.

But within the next 60 days the Aviation Consumers Action Project (ACAP) will file a petition with the FAA and the Department of Transportation to set minimum leg standards, unless the “industry follows American Airline’s lead in increasing coach class leg room to tolerable levels.”

ACAP is working on one more initiative — a Six Footers’ Club to advance normal comforts for tall passengers. For more information, write to ACAP at PO Box 19029, Washington, D.C., 20036, or call 1-800-588-ACAP.

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