Flying isn’t what it used to be. Long gone are the days of free checked bags and snacks on short-haul flights. It seems almost impossible to remember a time where seat selection and entertainment options were complimentary features of the everyday economy flight. And on top of having to pay more for the basics we were once accustomed to, economy fare seats are consistently becoming smaller, more cramped and simply uncomfortable. So who is to blame for the drastic changes in the airline industry?


Most travelers are quick to blame the greedy airlines for the increasingly uncomfortable and cramped seating in economy travel. However a recent poll conducted by MSN seems to indicate that consumers may be a contributing culprit to the continuously shrinking seat.

In the poll conducted in April, 51% of Americans chose ticket price as their top priority when choosing an airline for their travel. While 11% chose to consider the airlines safety record, only 6% of Americans selected comfort as their top priority when deciding between airlines.

With so few people choosing to prioritize comfort ahead of price, airlines across the world are attempting to offer the cheapest flights, with the least amount of frills, and have figured out how to unbundle features in order to do so. When consumers consistently select airlines that offer the cheapest flights, airlines are incentivized to cut whatever costs are necessary and to figure out the bare minimum one needs to travel in order to maximize profits.

The old adage of voting with our wallets has contributed towards the trend of low frill airlines, and the concept of ‘basic economy’ class. Consumers are willing to pay the lowest price possible, even if it means they will have to pay additional fees for checked baggage, or seat selection. These preferences have given rise to ultra-low-cost airlines in the United States, such as Spirit and Frontier, or Swoop Airlines and Flair Airlines in Canada. The major airlines then need to offer similar prices without any perks to stay competitive with the growing budget airline industry.

Ultimately the travelers and consumers are the ones who end up paying, literally and figuratively, for their choices. Consumers are caught in a catch-22 where they want to be able to afford to travel by flying, but also want to be comfortable while doing so. If consumers shifted their priorities so that comfort and flying experience became more important, airlines may have to adjust their models, and find creative ways to offer comfortable and affordable flight experiences.

There does however, seem to be some hope for travelers. A new US law may be passed that will prevent airlines from further shrinking their seats and will set minimum size standards for economy fare seats. The law, if passed, may provide a happy medium for travelers who can come to at least expect a reasonable seat size- while still paying for their snacks, of course.