American Airlines is putting more seats in almost every plane they own, according to Hugo Martin in the LA Times. To get a good idea of what this means, comfort-wise, think about putting an extra seat or two in your car. (Martin points out that it’s hardly an uncommon practice: “Spirit, for example, packs 178 seats on an Airbus 320, while United Airlines puts 138 seats on the same aircraft model,” he reports.) AA’s fleet is comprised mostly of Boeing 737s (the best-selling jet in history) and MD-80s. The airline, currently operating in bankruptcy, plans to refit these jets with more seats to make your flight more comfortable–wait, no. It’s because research has shown that smaller people are flying more, obviating the need for needlessly roomy seats in coach. Wrong again. Let’s go back to the car thing.
Adding jetliner seats is like carpooling in the air. Even with only 10% of Americans carpooling, the savings add up to more than $1 billion a year. In addition to environmental concerns, those cost savings drive the practice. Consumer gasoline prices nearly tripled between 1998 and 2011 (and this week oil rose again above $100 a barrel). But during that same period, jet fuel prices made the rise in gas prices look like nothing: a barrel of jet fuel in 2012 was $123.90 compared to just $21.55 in 1998. So after you squeeze in next to your new best friend on your next flight, try to remember that he or she–who just might also be why you can’t have any peanuts (just saying)–is at least lightening your financial load.