What to expect in a commercial airplane

Welcome to air travel in 2018.
people standing
reduced airplane legroom
Locate your reduced legroom. Moron Eel

Over the past 50 years, the space between rows (i.e., the pitch) has compressed by an average of 4 inches. Some budget carriers offer only 28 inches between seats, the tiniest space yet allotted on a commercial flight. Chairs have also transformed, from pillowy cushions to fire-­resistant-​but-​minimal pads, each less than 20 pounds. Trimmer profiles, though, slide butts back in the seats, restoring a few inches of lost legroom.

airplane elbow room
Don’t expect elbow room. Moron Eel

Until the ’90s, it was rare to find someone in the middle seat; most flights were less than two-thirds full, and people (naturally) grab windows and aisles first. That empty space meant passengers had more room to stretch out, boarding moved more quickly, and bin shortages were blessedly uncommon. Today, cheaper fares mean nearly nine out of 10 spots are taken on an average flight.

Bygone amenities

airplane entertainment
coat racks
Seat flotation
Overhead space
Table settings

How to use a tiny bathroom

Enter sideways
Wash carefully
Mind the door

And yet, you grow

people size over time
Tall and wide. Moron Eel

As legroom contracts and seats narrow, passengers’ bodies are going in the opposite direction. Most Americans are more than 25 pounds heavier than their 1960s counterparts. That extra weight generally hangs around people’s waists, making the squeeze between armrests tighter. We’ve also grown an inch taller, bringing seat­backs and luggage bins even closer.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2018 Tiny issue of Popular Science.