Coach Airline Seats: Are They Bad for Your Health?

Coach Airline Seats: Are They Bad for Your Health?

I travel a lot. Between work, friends’ weddings/babies, and an insatiable wanderlust problem, I seem to be always going somewhere. And I love that.

However, recently there’s been a concern growing in the back of my mind. We all know that traveling can be tiresome and uncomfortable, especially for those of us who fly coach. In the past, this has meant a tighter squeeze back in the cattle car, but it was, mostly, manageable. These days, though, I feel like it is getting worse. At just 5’4” (which my husband says is a generous over-estimate), I find myself more and more uncomfortable in coach seats. What used to be annoying is now nearly painful. And that’s coming from someone commonly characterized as “petite.” What about taller and/or generally larger folks? I can only imagine how, squeezed and contorted into the tiny seat area, it quickly begins to feel more torture chair than airline chair.

As someone concerned about wellness and wellbeing, I wonder: is this small seat space a big potential health problem? For an hour or two flight, it may not be that big of a deal. But for a cross-country or international flight, I have to think there are some real health risks. For example, I’ve heard about the dangers of blood clots, which can be deadly. And I know that those who take certain, common medications, such as birth control, are particularly at risk. A quick perusal on WedMD reveals that the name of this condition is deep vein thrombosis, commonly known as “economy-class syndrome.” It doesn’t get more obvious than this! I wonder how many recorded instances of deep vein thrombosis have occurred, both recently and as compared to year’s past, while flying coach.

So what can we do about it? I’ve read that to mitigate the situation, flyers should try walking up and down the aisle or in-seat exercises. But come on, let’s be realistic. There’s nowhere to go! Your seat neighbor, likely grumpy from your invasion (albeit unavoidable) into their personal space, will not respond so kindly when you ask him to please get up one more time so you can stand in the aisle. And once you’re in the aisle, you will inevitably be in the way of a beverage cart or someone making the pilgrimage to the coach restroom (does anyone actually believe the FAA prohibits coach passengers from using the first class restrooms “for their safety”?). The notion of stretching in your seat is equally amusing. I can barely pull my small laptop from under the seat to my tray (and when I do, there’s hardly enough arm space to actually type), how am I supposed to effectively exercise in such cramped conditions?

It seems to me that a certain amount of space should not be a privilege for only those folks who can afford a first class (or even economy plus) seat but a non-negotiable right to health. A minimum amount of room – leg room, pitch, etc… – should be required for all seats on a plane. It is a matter of real safety, and not in the first-class-gets-special-toilet-privileges kind of way. Yet, to my knowledge, seat space is an issue that has flown under the radar for far too long (sorry, I had to get one pun in).

I can’t be the only one concerned and/or grouchy about this. What can we do to change it?

Filed under: Travel

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