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The Science of Shrinking Personal Space on Airplanes

It’s no surprise that airlines have been squeezing more seats onto their planes. Some criticize the move increases their profits, while others defend it keeps ticket prices low. Regardless of your stance on the matter, personal space on airplanes is expected to continue to dwindle on commercial airlines. But, many are surprised by just where that space is shrinking.

Average planes now have 142 seats, with the previous average being 137 seats. Most think this new row was previously leg room. But with the creation and implementation of slimmer backed seats, our leg space is relatively unchanged. The noticeable shrinking of personal space actually comes from headroom. On most new planes, our heads are now three inches closer to the head of the person sitting in front of you. Once that person reclines, the distance between you and them shrinks further. 

It’s human nature to become anxious and agitated by shrinking personal space. And of course, the size of this personal bubble is different for everyone. Some people can handle this closeness more easily than others.  But science does show that some parts of the body require a larger personal bubble. For example, you probably don’t care how close your foot is to another object. Not surprisingly, the head is an area that is more sensitive. When that seat in front of you reclines, it is noticed immediately. Though it hasn’t been officially researched, many think the shrinking space correlates with increased incidences of flying rage in recent years. 

Additionally, bathrooms are sizing down. In the new Airbus A320s and A321s, they have cut the bathroom galleys in half, creating two bathrooms next to each other instead of one.

How to deal with shrinking personal space on airplanes

At least airplane manufacturers are trying to alleviate the tension. Boeing has reported that they are redesigning the ceiling panels to provide a more spacious view up above. We have yet to know if it will relieve some of the strain, so here are a few other tips to use the next time you fly.

  • Sit in the first row. There is more room for your legs and no one sitting in front of you to recline.
  • Even the first few rows can make a difference. Seeing only a few rows instead of 30 can make you feel less stressed.
  • If you can afford it, fly first class.
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“Animal Talk” About Frontier Airlines

Let’s talk animals.

Okay, okay … I know we here at Christopherson are headquartered in Salt Lake City, a major Delta hub, and not many of us fly Frontier, but they actually are a pretty cool airline. Let me tell you why.
Frontier has been around for forever, but after their merger with Republic Airways in 2010 they revamped their services and are actually quite competitive. Did you know that for a corporate discount they offer a percentage off their fares rather than classes of service? That means it’s so much easier for companies to calculate savings, plus one can avoid the confusing maze of classes of service.
Also, Frontier has more seat width than Southwest, they only have a 50$ change fee, and–hold onto your hats, folks, are you ready for this?–if you have a qualifying corporate contract Frontier will give you 20 Ascent Level Memberships to distribute however you want! This means same-day flight change fees are waived, free bags, early boarding, complimentary DirecTV, and 25% bonus early return mileage credit.
Plus, how can you pass up the menagerie of animals they have on their tails?
If you haven’t given Frontier a chance lately, check them out. I think you may be pleasantly surprised!