As passengers get bigger, seats get smaller

AP photo/Alan Diaz

It’s not your imagination: Airline seats are getting more cramped.

“From the passenger’s perspective, this is one of the sadder trends in the airline industry,” says Emily McNutt, associate editor at The Points Guy, a website that covers the travel industry.

Airplane seats are on a diet even as travelers grow larger. An Australian man just sued American Airlines after he was crammed into a window seat next to two obese travelers. In one sign of shrinking seats, American Airlines is cutting legroom by an inch or two on its new 737 MAX planes, a way to fit more passengers on each flight.

How to reconcile shrinking seats with expanding waistlines? McNutt says there’s no clear answer. Federal Aviation Administration rules say only that a passenger must be able to buckle a seatbelt with the armrest down, and it’s up to carriers to decide how to police passengers whose paunches spill into neighboring seats.

“It’s definitely an issue for airlines,” McNutt said.