My invitation for the St Patrick’s Day celebration came with a concise instruction — wear something green.
It didn’t say anything about being prepared for green food, green beer and pot-still Irish whiskey. The invite revealed very little about the evening ahead, which I found was filled with insights into Irish culture and lifestyles.
The thing about having everything Irish in one room is that sooner rather than later aviation talk will come up. The Irish consider themselves the godfathers of aviation. And who can hold that against them?
Whether by coincidence or suitable geo-location, Shannon Airport in Ireland was the key entry and exit point for all transatlantic flights back in the day.
The world’s first duty free shop was established at the same airport in 1947, and Ireland boasts of some of the oldest, largest and most successful airlines in Europe, like Aer Lingus, Ryanair, Norwegian Air International (yes, Norwegian Air is Irish).
One of the guests quipped that the Irish make some of the best airline executives in the world — I did not argue since I was outnumbered.
As the evening progressed and the Irish brews kicked in, I found myself in conversation about the evolution of aircraft cabins with two Dublin based executives who were in town for non-aviation business. Their knowledge on the subject was A class.
An aspect of aircraft cabin that was part of the discussion was the shrinking of the aircraft seat and legroom space over the years as airlines try to squeeze more rows into the same size of cabin.
For the frequent flyer who is not primarily motivated by fare factors, cabin comfort aspects like seat pitch and legroom are key considerations in selecting which airline to fly.
Seat pitch is the distance between one seat and the same point on another seat directly in front or behind, and legroom is the space available for passengers to stretch their legs while seated.
Normally, the first variable when it comes to seat pitch and legroom will be the class of travel, which is first, business, premium economy or economy.
Since airlines generally focus more on their first and business class seats and how far they can recline, let us talk about seats in economy class or if you prefer cattle class.
During acquisition of an aircraft, airlines will usually provide details to the manufacturer on their expectations on seating for each class.
The standard seat pitch for economy class will range from 71cm to a maximum of 86cm, with low cost carriers closer to the minimum while full service airlines keep it at an average of 78cm.
The second variable would be the route to be flown; on short haul and regional flights, airlines will usually deploy narrow body (single aisle) aircraft, often with less legroom and minimum recline in economy class. On long-haul flights airlines will use wide body (twin aisle) aircraft with more seat pitch and width.
In the past 20 years, the average distance between seat rows has shrunk by at least 10cms while the average seat size is down 5cm.
The net effect has been that airlines are packing more passengers in the cabin, especially in economy class, with adverse effects on their health. Statistics show that Deep Vein Thrombosis is affecting one in 5,000 travellers on long flights.
Consequently, legislators in the US are seeking to put an end to this shrinkage by introducing a bill dubbed the “Seat Egress in Air Travel (SEAT) Act of 2017,” which would task regulatory authorities to set limits and compel airlines to display their seat size and legroom prominently on their websites.
Under the prevailing circumstances, travellers could be left wondering if there are any remedies as far as seating goes.
Well, exit row seats and bulkhead certainly have more legroom than other seats on the aircraft. Some airlines charge more for these seats.
However, if travelling with children and infants you may not be allowed an exit row seat for safety reasons.
Seeing as most passengers do not like to sit in the middle, a sure way to guarantee a window or an aisle seat is to select it at the time of ticketing, preferably early.
Online check-in, which is enabled at least 24 hours in advance, is another way of securing your preferred seat, but the chances of getting it are narrow.
You can compare in advance the aircraft various airlines deploy on specific city pairs, mainly for long-haul flights, as seat pitch and legroom go a long way towards your health and comfort.
This post was earlier published in The East African Magazine March 25, 2017 Frequent flyer? Legroom options coming up soon.