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You may have noticed: Americans seem to kvetch more loudly and more often than travelers from other countries. Are we just a bunch of spoiled whiners?
We may indeed be spoiled whiners, but we do have at least one compelling reason to be unhappy with the travel experience: We’re flying on fuller planes.
The latest passenger-traffic report from the International Air Transport Association confirms that U.S. domestic flights on average flew 83.8 percent full during 2013, the highest load factor of any country’s flights tracked by IATA.
Second to the U.S. was China, where load factor for the year reached 80.3 percent. Next was Australia, at 76.5 percent, followed closely by Brazil at 76.3 percent. India was at 74.6 percent, Russia at 74.0, and Japan at 64.3.
The airlines love high load factors. They show that their aircraft are being used efficiently, and that supply (of seats) is properly aligned with demand (for travel).
But for flyers, high load factors translate directly into discomfort. That’s especially true in coach, where legroom has decreased by 10 percent over the past two decades.
The combination of packed flights and jammed-together seats is a toxic one. IATA itself has called attention to the increase in air rage incidents, although its proposed solution — more authority for pilots and cabin crew — failed to address the problem’s root cause.
Until U.S. airlines reconfigure their planes to ameliorate the claustrophobia and discomfort caused by chronically full flights, American flyers will have a legit reason to whine. That means a couple extra inches of legroom in coach. And yes, that means a few fewer seats to sell. But it’s the right thing to do.
Reader Reality Check
Feel free to whine. You have every reason to.
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