My handspan is 9 inches from the tip of my thumb to the tip of my pinky.

The seat in economy on the flight back from Buenos Aires was exactly two handspans wide, with less than two handspans between my face and the seat back in front of me. By my calculations, 120 adults were crammed into seats 18″ wide, with 14″ of face space. My knees didn’t touch the seat in front of me, but I’m short. Tom’s knees were jammed.

Of course, there were no movies on the flight. There wasn’t enough space for eyes to focus if there had been seat-back TVs, and the overhead was so low that few could have seen a general screen.

Fortunately, the seats didn’t recline more than two inches.

This wasn’t a cheap flight. We paid full fare to fly to and from Buenos Aires. Not Ryanair, but Aerolineas Argentina, a member of the SkyTeam with Delta Airlines.

I mentally groused the entire flight about how those in charge of airlines should be required to ride coach whenever they travel, no matter how long the flight. Let them eat cake. Things would change then.

Very few Western adults have shoulders less than 18″ broad. Throughout the flight, I saw grown men jockeying for elbow space, some forward, some backward on the armrest. Ridiculous.

One amazing sight: no computers. Simply not enough room.


Throughout the flight, I saw few people use the one bathroom in Economy. There simply wasn’t room to get out of the seat rows. God help anyone who felt air sick.

On the three-hour flight, we were served a beverage and snack that consisted of two squares of ham sandwich with crustless bread (thin pieces of white and brown styrofoam), and an Argentine version of a mini Scooter Pie. I did not partake.

This was an especially bad flight, but the flights to the U.S. from Brazil aren’t much better. Typically, those seats are 18″ wide, but there is a bit more leg room and space to breathe. Not much, but more.

As the seats in Economy continue to shrink (and people continue to grow), the seats in Business and First Class continue to expand, with every flyer getting not only broad, reclining seats with leg rests, but almost their own private cabinets.


I know, I know. Costs keep increasing, and the Business and First Class passengers keep the airlines afloat, but I think it’s time for a popular uprising. Surely all passengers should have the right to adequate leg room and head room. I’ve seen the articles about the possibility of “vertical seating,” or standing cabins for cheap flights.


“For short flights, do people really need to sit down?” asks one aerospace engineer. Hell yes, they do! Don’t even think about it!

Meanwhile, we in Economy endure. Arriving at airports two or three hours ahead of time, submitting to body scans and pat-downs, and then waiting in silence as every class of airline traveler boards the plane before us (Platinum, Gold, Ruby, Emerald, Happy Camper, Mother’s Favorite, and traveling with children), and then filing like cattle into our apportioned space, with one set of toilets for all Economy passengers (do NOT attempt to use the bathrooms in Business…for everyone’s safety).

Ah, the glamour of air travel!