Can Flying Coach Get Any Worse?

National Geographic Traveler editor at large Christopher Elliott is the magazine’s consumer advocate and ombudsman. Over the past 15 years he has helped countless readers fix their trips.

Here’s his latest advice:

Reader question: Can the coach flying experience get any worse?

My answer: For years, airlines have been cutting services to keep base fares low. In February of 2015, Delta’s basic economy class tickets became nonrefundable and ineligible for upgrades. The next squeeze is likely to be felt with seats getting moved closer together.

Discount carriers such as Spirit and Allegiant already offer particularly tight quarters, and most aviation insiders agree that it’s merely a question of when a newly cramped configuration will take over as the standard.

In the fall of 2014, reports surfaced of a new “economy minus” section from a major American airline, with less legroom and other downgrades.

Though such fares might help you afford to fly, says aviation journalist John Walton, “whether ‘economy minus’ is worth it to you depends on what you value.”

Booking one of these tickets—in which the terms are disclosed but easy to ignore—may save a few dollars, but it also tells the airline that you want less room and more restrictions.

And that will only lead to more negatives.

Christopher Elliott is Traveler magazine’s consumer advocate. This exchange appeared in the May 2015 issue of the magazine. Follow Christopher’s story on Twitter @elliottdotorg.


  1. D Romano
    Orlando Airport
    November 6, 2015, 9:16 pm

    Southwest is very misleading when it says it doesn’t charge change fees. Technically that is true, but trying changing your flight it an earlier one if you get to the airport on time for the early flight. You will have to pay hundreds of dollars to do this. I don’t care what they call it or how they try to spin the difference between a change fee and a change of flight fee — it is a change fee nonetheless. Tonight is a perfect example. I got here on time to take an earlier flight to Baltimore and was told that since my later flight was not delayed I would have to pay an additional $268 to take the earlier flight. If the flight I am scheduled for was late they would waive the fee. Of course, after the earlier flight took off, they have now announced that my flight is delayed. It is supposedly delayed 20 minutes, but when Southwest says a flight is delayed 20 minutes, it will invariably be followed by an announcement that it is delayed 30 minutes, and then 40. What I find ironic, is that the SWA magazines on the plane are trumpeting how SWA’s motto is transparency. This is a joke. SWA used to be an airline I respected, but no more.

  2. Paula Varner
    United States
    May 29, 2015, 3:43 pm

    There is a common saying: “If you don’t fly first class (or business) your heirs will”.
    I’m pretty small so am still flying coach if only going a couple thousand miles but even I have noticed how rotten it is getting in coach (I’m 5’0″ and slim). Fairly soon, I think, I’ll abandon coach altogether.