The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Business

April 8, 2013

Complaints surge as airlines shrink seats, overbook flights to cram more people into planes

WASHINGTON — Airline passenger complaints to the Transportation Department surged by one-fifth last year even though other measures such as on-time arrivals and mishandled baggage show airlines are doing a better job, according to a report being released Monday.

Private researchers who have analyzed federal data on airline performance say it’s not surprising that passengers are irritated. Carriers keep shrinking the size of seats in order to stuff more people into planes. Empty middle seats that might provide a little more room have vanished. And more people who have bought tickets are being turned away because flights are overbooked.

“The way airlines have taken 130-seat airplanes and expanded them to 150 seats to squeeze out more revenue I think is finally catching up with them,” said Dean Headley, a business professor at Wichita State University in Kansas who has co-written the annual report for 23 years.

“People are saying, ‘Look, I don’t fit here. Do something about this.’ At some point airlines can’t keep shrinking seats to put more people into the same tube,” he said.

The industry is even looking at ways to make today’s smaller-than-a-broom closet toilets more compact in the hope of squeezing a few more seats onto planes.

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