It Is Now Physically Impossible For An Adult to Fit on a Plane

Check this out:


Seventeen inches. If you’re able to hog both armrests, add about four inches. I’m not a big guy–no one ever says, “Mad Biologist, you need to drop twenty pounds.” I’m also a smidgen below average height, and shoulder-to-shoulder, I measure 22 inches. Seated on a chair, my maximum width (i.e., hip, thighs) is…seventeen inches. I barely fit. I have no idea how any six foot man, unless he is abnormally thin, is supposed to fit in a coach class seat. And these are international flights.

At some point, snakes will be the only things left on a plane….

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57 Responses to It Is Now Physically Impossible For An Adult to Fit on a Plane

  1. Gene Doctor says:

    Being 6’7″ I find airline seats in general to be highly uncomfortable. I flew 2 weeks ago and secured an emergency row seat for the legroom, but the width of the seat was so narrow I couldn’t fit without shoving my thigh under the arm rest and having a numb leg for the flight – at least it was only 90 minutes. Highly uncomfortable. Not looking forward to standard 17″ seats! Yes, I could stand to drop some weight but for 6’7″ I’m not abnormally fat.

  2. Gingerbaker – Vermont – Trying to think independently about renewable energy and ending the burning of fossil fuels.
    Roger Lambert says:

    Between this sort of degradation, and porno-scanners, no-fly lists, disastrous in-plane air quality, etc…. it’s almost as if the government is getting us ready to feel better about outlawing all future air travel because of its intolerable CO2 emissions.

  3. albanaeon says:

    Well, that’s just swell. Probably some MBA genius thinking how they can cut costs enough to make airlines work again, and not realizing that people aren’t flying as much because its getting bloody inconvenient to fly. No cost cutting ,easure in the world is going to make you money if you don’t have customers.

    • watermelonpunch – about me!
      watermelonpunch says:

      It does seem like a lot of companies in recent times have been throwing away dollars to save pennies.

      • cptcrackers
        Brian Richards says:

        The grocery store across the street from me recently remodeled. After the remodel, there are several things I can no longer get there. Things I (used to) buy all the time. Things that BROUGHT ME INTO THE STORE. I am told by the manager that these are items that don’t sell as well. Now he gets far less of my money. His prices are already too high. I shop there because his selection is BETTER than the lower priced Target and Walmart nearby and since I needed those specific items, it was just easier to do it all in one shot. Now I have 5 specialty items less of a reason to pay his prices.

  4. KeithDB says:

    To give you an idea of how little space 17 inches is, here’s a little exercise. Pull three dollar bills out of your wallet and lay them end to end. Look at how wide an area their length covers. That’s actually 18 inches (each bill is 6 inches long). It’s an inch more than the width of a 17 inch plane seat. While a majority of people’s waists may be that small, their shoulder’s are not. Go ahead and have someone try to lay those three bills across your shoulders. Cramming human beings into that space for a double digit hour transcontinental flight is simply torture.

  5. natsera says:

    And you’re talking about men, whose shoulders are often wider than their hips. What about women, for whom the opposite is more usual? Some women might not even be able to sit down in a seat when the armrests are down!

    • watermelonpunch – about me!
      watermelonpunch says:

      Clearly they will have to deliberately seat people boy / girl / boy / girl.
      The last time I flew 6 years ago, I remember thinking that’s the only reason me & the guy next to me fit. I’m not a tiny woman, but I’m not excessively chubby, and the guy next to me was tall and just a tad on the big side… and we had to put up all the arm rests to fit at all. It still wasn’t too comfy, and you dared not move, lest you seriously inconvenience the person next to you. And I can still remember thinking I was glad that we both were smelling fresh! I don’t want to think what 2 pleasantly plump people will have to deal with sitting next to each other on 17inch seats after having been traveling for 2 days.

  6. brigitgoddess – Just your average barefoot, tree-hugging, poetry writing, rapier-fighting girl next door.
    Brigit says:

    which airlines are doing this?

  7. It’s the government squeeze on the airlines bottom line, they have to resort to squeezing as many of us onto the plane to make up the costs around fuel, regs, etc etc… it the presidents squeezing of the middle class wake the fuck up.

    • You forgot “sheeple.” What you meant to post was:

      “it the presidents squeezing of the middle class wake the fuck up sheeple.”

    • blg says:

      Squig, thanks for the totally baseless opinion with no facts to back it up. But keep making those Fox like opinions as if they were backed by facts. I’m sure you will persuade the under-educated.

  8. Joe Daily says:

    No Squig, it’s the MBAs and C-level executives putting the squeeze on you while they use a cut of their exorbitant salaries to pay Faux News to lie to you about who is responsible.

  9. Brian – Fort Lauderdale – I'm Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus, as well as a published poet. My first book, A Witness in Exile was published in 2011 by Louisiana Literature Press.
    Brian says:

    Part of the blame is with us as customers. Too many of us look for the lowest fares, full stop. We’re not even checking to see if there’s a charge for carrying a bag on, or if they provide even basic snacks on flights. Nope–what’s the lowest price I can pay to get from here to there. That’s it. And so we get what we pay for. What I “save” on cheaper flights (not that I fly often) I end up spending (and then some) for a massage to take the kinks out of my neck and shoulders from sitting with them jammed into my ears for the whole flight.

  10. tttulio
    TTT says:

    Great, finally Fat people will pay extra.

    • Crystal says:

      Doubt it. “Fat people” (which, apparently, we ALL now are, unless we’re comfy-cozy in 17 inches) will likely just sue for discrimination – which, then, let’s run THAT down to its natural conclusion – will further limit FOOD offerings on planes. I worked in aviation, back in the day. Believe me when I tell you, this is not an outrageous jump of logic.

    • watermelonpunch – about me!
      watermelonpunch says:

      They already do.
      I knew a man years back who always had to fly first class because he was very large.

  11. All this trouble to squeeze in extra passengers but no effort to eliminate deep vein thrombosis on any flight longer than one hour.

  12. mattkoyak
    mattkoyakmattkoyak says:

    It’s an odd equation: the more passengers, the more tickets sold; the more passengers, the more bags, the more weight, the more fuel cost. Similarly, fewer flights oversold with 17″ wide seats can’t yield higher profits than fewer passengers in, say, 25″ seats and more flights. I’d be surprised if it did.

  13. sbenezue
    Steven says:

    Hang on guys. I am waiting for the day when they remove most of the seats from the plane and make you stand, holding a rail above, subway style, (belted to the nearest pole for safety). Think of the people they can cram into coach then!

    • RyanAir in Great Britain tried that, and the UK Civil Aviation Authority put a quick kibosh on that.

      • znepj
        znepj says:

        No, they didn’t – the CEO of Ryanair *said* they were considering it, but he knew full well that the CAA would never go for it. It was just a kite-flying exercise, and it worked: he got about £10M worth of publicity for the cost of a press-release. He’s a complete git; it doesn’t mean he’s stupid.

    • watermelonpunch – about me!
      watermelonpunch says:

      I was thinking along the same lines… Recalling when I was on some “buses” in Jamaica in the 80s, and during rush hours when people were going to & from work, it was crowded, and they had these fold out seats so people could sit in the aisles.

    • Clay Dowling – Ann Arbor, MI
      Clay Dowling says:

      Boeing told RyanAir straight out that they wouldn’t ship a plane configured that way.

  14. Tall Stacey says:

    I remember the days of the DC-3, when flying was elegant, when airlines attracted fliers with such things as on time service, how fast they could get you into and out of the terminals, your comfort, meal quality, free parking and the various other amenities – like cigarettes for example- that were then common; when customers were happy to fly and airlines were happy to have them. There was real competition then, not only between the big 3 (TWA, Delta and Pan Am) but also to attract passengers from the then very viable US railroads.

    Flying now has all the allure of a Peruvian mountain bus, sans goats and chickens of course – so far at least.

    Personally, even though US passenger rail service is a disaster, any chance I have I will take the train. My legs are so long I have had to sit side saddle for the last 10 years or so. At 17″, there isn’t room to do that. I can’t think of any reason I need to get anywhere that fast anymore. But then again, ship your belongings UPS because it’s cheaper than $75/bag, 2 hrs to the airport, be there 2 hours early for security, flight an hour late, an hour to get your bags, rent a car, and another 2 hours from the airport – even just a 2 hour flight kills a day anyhow. I can relax on the train & be there in about the same time.

  15. Pamela says:

    I’m 5’4″, 125 pounds, I wear size 4 or 6. I just measured, I need 16 inches in the seat.

  16. smgraff4 – Earning his Masters in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Maryland in 2013 and publishing research in computational biology in 2016, Steve is both a senior writer and columnist at Fut Mex Nation and an aspiring systems engineer. Follow him on Twitter @SG_Calcio.
    smgraff4 says:

    Deregulation has caused these sort of shenanigans–companies competing w/ each other for lowest rates, etc. But without deregulation, most of us would not be flying anyhow because the costs would be above what we could afford to fly.

  17. tapps – brown deer, wi – graphic designer. web developer. photographer. artist. drummer. nerd.
    tapps says:

    well that’s it. i guess i need to get rich (enough to fly first class) before my next flight…

    since after losing lots of weight with crossfit, i fairly certain i would need to shave off some hip bone to fit into that.. 😛

  18. Alan says:

    Saturday Night Live “commercial” from over 30 years ago: singing tag line on airline ad: “It;s like flying on a cattle car with wings.” And there’s been a whole lotta seat size reduction since then.

  19. Growl says:

    Forget the comfort issues. Crammed into those small sears can cause blood clots, particularly in the legs or any areas with recent surgery. this can lead to heart attacks, strokes, or lung damage.

  20. tanz33 – I'm a 33 year old Kiwi woman trying to make sense of the world and my place in it. I'm in the middle of raising my children, changing my career path, and adopting an FA approach to life.
    tanz33 says:

    Huh. And I thought the only people who couldn’t fit in plane seats were fat, and they were the only reason air travel was uncomfortable for passengers… (/sarcasm)

  21. jesseemspak says:

    There are several factors in this. One is that flying was never all that sustainable anyway; we forget that in the era of regulated flights the ticket prices were high but the airlines were, to all intents and purposes, subsidized. (You didn’t think United and TWA paid for that nifty airport near Chicago, did you? Or for the air traffic control?) Then there’s the fuel tax break they get. Lots of industries are subsidized directly or indirectly. It’s just that the capital costs of running an airline are HUGE and the efficiency is really, really low. A plane has to be ~80% full to not lose money.

    After deregulation. the prices came down but price and cost are not the same thing. And we had a period where we all got spoiled because the airlines locked in low fuel costs. When they were offering Priceline tickets for $100 to go to Europe, you could thank the oil-producing nations.

    It’s quite possible that the costs of passenger air travel simply are too high to sustain the industry at anything like the levels we have become accustomed to. At least in Europe and Japan (and now China) there’s some high-speed rail options, where the bang for the buck at many levels is simply better.

    Odds are we may end up in a world where a trip from Boston to NYC isn’t done by plane anymore, and honestly that’s no bad thing IMO. With a good 120 mph rail line (you could actually build most of it on the old right of ways — they are mostly still there) you could make the trip from NYC to Buffalo in about 5-6 hours. That’s about what a plane would take if you tack on the pre-flight, get-to-the-airport time.

  22. Anima says:

    It’d be nice if one airline didn’t size-down, and saw a big spike in business as a result, far out-weighing the on-paper benefits the 17″ seats are supposed to win for the other airlines. Bring some competition back to the game.

  23. DeidreMiller – Glasgow, Scotland
    Dee M. says:

    Well, I’ve never had trouble with a plane seat in my life, and I wouldn’t fit into a 17″ seat. I’m actually sitting on one right now, but it doesn’t have arms and my hips do extend a little bit beyond the edges. I’m bottom heavy and yes, noticeably larger than average. Not by an absurd amount, though. I wear a 16/18 in the US. I would be absolutely livid if I had to pay for a second seat on a plane. I’m guessing that close to 1/3 of women have hips that wouldn’t fit into that space.

  24. Melody says:

    I’m 5’2″, 130lb, size 2-6, and my hips are 18″ across. The whole thing is ridiculous.

  25. Tall Stacey says:

    Might as well have some fun with it I suppose:

  26. Sam Mosin says:

    Back in the mid-70s I took a flight on Communist Romania’s Tarom Airlines. The seats were small and rows so close together it was impossible for an average height passenger to sit wth his knees pointed straight ahead, and every seat on the plane on each flight was filled. Aren’t you happy we defeated communism?

  27. Eric says:

    Compare the 17″ idea with the results fo this study:
    Airlines are setting themselves up for “standard of care” lawsuits for everyone the ends up with a medical problem becasue of this.

  28. Greg says:

    Don’t forget the ever decreasing size of airliner bathrooms. They may as well just get rid of them(and add yet another tiny passenger seat) and sell onboard personal urinary catheters to the passenger. 😛

  29. zapper45701 says:

    I just measured from one great trochanter (outer hip bone) to the other. I span 20 inches–bone! Not fat, not muscle, not even skin–BONE! Yes, I am a tall woman. Yes, I have a few extra pounds, but I’m measuring bone. Even if I were dead and skinned, I wouldn’t fit. Will people in charge of reality please take over from the airline’s bean counters.

  30. KatC says:

    I am 5’2” 120lbs of muscle and wear between a size 1-3 depending on brand. I just measured my hips while standing–15in across, while sitting however, my ass spreads out to 18in. I’m thinner and smaller than probably 85-90% of the people I meet. I cannot imagine how prohibitively uncomfortable this will make flying for the vast majority of people.

  31. Rich says:

    Some of the planes on have 16″…

  32. Dick Rasch says:

    Since they obviously don’t care about safety anyways, why can’t they just install hammocks–or even bunk beds? At least then we won’t be forced to sleep sitting perfectly straight up, like a hung-over Tokyo salaryman during rush hour.

  33. Rachel says:

    It looks like Amtrak is now the way to go. At least the average adult can actually walk off the train because their legs haven’t gone numb

  34. Aaron says:

    No wonder why, when I was looking into taking the train to DC instead of flying, it was more expensive to take the TRAIN (mass transportation of the PEOPLE) than it was to fly…at least the average American can fit their ample tukhus into a seat! So…I took the bus instead. Uncomfortable (Megabus, certainly you could improve the cushioning of the seat for those of us who lack ample backsides, but otherwise you exceeded my expectations) for the 12+ hours from Boston to DC, however the total cost round-trip was equal to what it cost to fill my car going one way.

    Flying, though having the advantage of being faster when a flight ACTUALLY takes off, is really becoming a scary thing: more and more flights are canceled for various reasons that are never disclosed, the frequency of plane crashes has increased and now, they are just making it more unpleasant for us by reducing the seat width to increase passenger capacity. Geesh!

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