WASHINGTON-The Wright brothers’ first flight took place on Dec. 7, 1903, but it
was not until after World War II that the commercial airline industry truly
At first, air travel was strictly controlled, regulated and
costly. Then, in 1978, the United States government deregulated the airline
industry in an effort to promote competition between airlines, which would
produce lower air fares for passengers.
At that time, approximately 235
million people were flying annually. In 1996, that number increased to 580
million. In 1998, the number rose to 626 million annually. And the Federal
Aviation Administration predicts that by the year 2010, the industry will have
to service nearly 1 billion customers.
Yet, while some experts argue that
deregulation has greatly benefitted consumers, many say that the airline
industry has a long way to go. Flying today seems to be less comfortable than
it was in the past. Not only does there seem to be less leg room, but
passengers have to wait through more delays, cancellations and overbookings.
The average airline seat in coach class today has only 31 to 32 inches between
it and the seat in front of it. These chairs can recline four to six inches,
which invades the personal space of the person in the back. As one customer
puts it, “What airlines don’t realize is that the seat space is not just
the seat you sit in, but the space around you. For the price of a ticket, you
should expect a minimum comfort zone.”
That space has shrunk. In
1990, the average space between seats was 34 to 36 inches. The seats themselves
have gotten smaller, as well. A “Consumer Reports Travel Letter”
stated that coach and economy class seats have narrowed in the last 30 years.
In 1977, an average Boeing 747 had nine seats across. The same 747 today has 10
seats across. DC-10s and L-1011s have increased their seating capacity in the
Responding to increased complaints from passengers, some
airlines in February of this year promised to expand the space allotted each
seat. American Airlines said it would refit some 700 planes, giving coach
passengers 33 to 36 inches of leg room, reducing the planes’ seating capacity
by 6.4 percent. United Airlines has created an Economy Plus section on their
planes, where passengers have 35 to 36 inches of leg room.
and discomforts have caused passengers to react badly. Air travelers are less
polite and more inconsiderate of each other. Flight attendants are seeing more
“Everything has deteriorated,” said one flight
attendant. And the crew of the planes often has to serve as mediators for upset
Many people credit the poor service given by airlines to the
lack of competition in the industry. The Department of Transportation has
reported that out of 18,717 domestic flights with daily service, about
one-third are controlled by a single carrier. And this lack of competition is
the irony of deregulation.