Airlines seek ways to save weight, cram in more passengers

It\'s getting more and more crowded in the air, and not just from an increase in the number of planes. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — You’d think it wouldn’t be possible for the airlines to squeeze more people onto flights, but you’d be wrong.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo, held in Hamburg, Germany, hosted 500 exhibitors, many with new ways to make planes lighter and to pack more people in.

Some of the ideas included face-to-face seating, diagonal seating layouts and even smaller bathrooms. There were many ideas for making seats lighter as well.

“Airlines are going to tinker with their cabins all the time,” Rick Seaney, of FareCompare.com, tells WTOP’s Veronica Robinson and Dimitri Sotis.

Getting more people onto a flight and saving weight are always at the front of airlines’ minds, Seaney says.

And in other countries, he says, conditions on flights are even more crowded.

The face-to-face idea isn’t even new, Seaney says. Southwest tried it in the 1990s, discontinuing it because “nobody really thought that there was any added value to it.”

It takes years to get a seat through the regulation process in each country in which a major airline flies, but it’s worth it, Seaney says. Not only do airlines save “a ton of fuel” with lighter seats, but if the seats have “a slimmer line, you get a better feel, and maybe you could put the seats a little closer together, but it feels the same.”

Airlines might soon reconfigure planes on shorter trips, figuring that passengers don’t need much comfort on a short hop.

And if you think things are uncomfortable enough, Seaney says some overseas airlines may feel even more crammed. In China, they’re designing planes with stand-up seats, saddle-back seats and double-decker seats on short flights.

On the Irish airline Ryanair, seats are even closer together than American airlines, and the planes have no tray tables or adjustable window shades.

“And they just come in with a leaf-blower at the end of every flight,” he says, adding that the airline even charges for restroom use.

Americans won’t stand for that, Seaney says, but on shorter flights, you can expect some more changes as airlines try anything they can think of to save weight.

And it can always get crazier — on China’s Spring Air, passengers are asked to relieve themselves before the flight, just to save a few more pounds.

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