“I am so tired of consumer reporters complaining about the size of the seats on a plane,” an email from Nick Papamarcos, a 37-year United Airlines employee, said. “Even worse, reporters who should know better [than to] give the snarky response, saying no one has ever asked for those small seats.”
Papamarcos is one of several airline insiders who responded to my call for minimum seat standards. I don’t normally revisit a story for the sake of clearing up a few misconceptions, because if I did, I’d never have time to advocate for anyone.
But I’ll make an exception for this one. Why? Because the arguments presented by Papamarcos and others offer a glimpse behind the airline industry’s propaganda machine and the falsehoods it spreads.
So let’s get back to his problem with my story, which is that I said airline passengers never “asked” for smaller seats.
“Well, actually they have,” he claims. “Anyone who has watched the pricing for a seat in the past 30 years knows that when one airline raises the price of a ticket 10 bucks and the others stay the same, the one who raised the price will see an immediate and severe drop in sales. That’s called asking for a smaller seat.”
No, it’s not.
It is true that no one has ever said to me, “Chris, airline seats are too big. Why can’t we reduce the amount of legroom?” It is also true that everyone I know would like to fly free on their next vacation. That’s why loyalty programs are so popular — the same loyalty programs that account for a healthy part of United Airlines’ profits.
Papamarcos and other airline apologists seem to be arguing that our silence on the issue of legroom means they’re right. By continuing to fly, aren’t we endorsing smaller seats?
Because you demanded lower fares, and because you continue to fly, you approve of the smaller seats.
I would see it as more of a vindication of the airline position if actual travelers contacted me and said: “This is the way we wanted it. I am willing to give up essential seat comfort for a lower fare.” But the reaction to my story was just the opposite: there was a tidal wave of pent-up outrage from passengers who were tired of the mistreatment and being blamed for what happened.
But Papamarcos wasn’t done. Even though I had written my column about seats, he couldn’t help bringing up checked baggage fees, another source of United’s profits. He notes how tired he and his fellow employees are about customers “whining” about paying for bags.
“Fuel is the most expensive part of the cost of moving from one place to another,” he says. “Why should you, who travels light, pay for Ma and Pa Kettle who have four 50-pound bags. No thanks — I’ll pay for mine, you pay for yours.”
Again, there are several fallacies in logic and historical inaccuracies that make this kind of propaganda so dangerous and flawed.