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How airplane legroom got so tight

And why it isn’t regulated — yet.

When you’re flying, there’s one thing you want to be above all else — comfortable. (Well, besides safe, of course!)

Whether you’re comfortable is determined by a slew of factors, but none draws more ire than seat pitch — the fancy term used to describe the distance between where your seat begins and the seat in front of you ends. You probably know it as legroom.

Seat pitch, otherwise known as legroom.
Edward Vega/Vox

Legroom is a precious commodity, and airlines are aware of this. After all, there is a finite amount of space on planes. In order to get the maximum number of people on board, you have to either innovate — for instance, by designing slimmer seats — or you have to shrink the seat pitch. Airlines have done both. Plus, they now give you the option to spend some more money to upgrade for more legroom, allowing you (and your wallet) to choose how comfortable you want to be.

If you want the cheapest flight, then you have to be willing to endure the slimmest seat pitch. If you’re willing and able to pay more, then you can feel the comfort of yesteryear, when seat pitch was way more luxurious.

Though there have been legal efforts to come up with minimum seat dimensions, there are no current regulations on seat pitch. For now, it’s still up to airlines to decide their own minimums, while hopefully enticing you to upgrade.

This is our fifth video on design trends and systems in travel! Check out last week’s episode on the trends that transformed ocean liners into cruise ships.

You can find this video and the entire library of Vox’s videos on YouTube.

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