Buried within the American World Airline Awards, the rankings for the airline industry out at the Farnborough International Airshow this week, is a trend America’s coach class travelers may find surprising. Among the ranks of global airlines, US airlines boast the world’s most uncomfortable seats.
The awards, compiled by the air travel ratings and reviews company Skytrax, rank everything from best overall airline to best cabin crew based on passenger feedback. Asian and Middle Eastern airlines dominated this year’s awards in most ranked categories, with European airlines occasionally making their way onto its top lists.
Western airlines, especially US ones, fared particularly poorly in the category
of “best airline seat.” Not a single European or American airline made it into the top 10 for regular economy seating, while American carriers didn’t make it into any top seating class category. A few European carriers, including British Airways and Air France, made the top rankings for premium economy class, but they dropped off the lists for first class and business class seat rankings.
The poor American performance should be no surprise to the airlines. There’s been a effort in recent years, especially by American carriers, to seemingly make life on an airplane as miserable as possible. The strategy of cultivating loyalty by offering free upgrades has been replaced by one that charges customers for the privilege of comfort. The passenger who gets stuck sitting between a screaming baby and a sick person is more likely to pay extra
to take refuge in an aisle seat, an exit row, or a new seating category such as “economy plus” or “comfort economy.”
Many American carriers have removed their first-class categories to make room for souped-up business class sections that boast amenities like flat beds. Accommodating those loungers requires squeezing more coach passengers into economy.
All that seat-shuffling has paid off for American based airlines, which recently surpassed Asian and European carriers like Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa as the world’s most profitable commercial airlines. Airlines worldwide racked up $13.5 billion in revenue from non-ticket based fees last year, according to a new survey
. After struggling through bankruptcies, mergers, and fuel shocks, US carriers are now swimming in revenues from things like checked baggage fees, headphone and snack sales and, more recently, seat assignments and upgrades. As they try to maintain that status, the seating situation is only going to get worse.