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The Incredible Shrinking Lavatory

Society is still gaining too much weight and that makes air travel more uncomfortable for everyone involved, but it isn't your imagination if you have noticed that using the lavatory on the airplane is becoming more difficult. Passengers have long lamented the new reality of smaller seat sizes and less legroom; and airlines are quick to point out that one can always pay more for more legroom. That's just the way it is in this new era of "a la cart" airline travel. But smaller bathrooms? Really?

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It shouldn't surprise you that the lavatories serving first class are indeed a bit roomier than average, but even these have been slimmed down in recent years. Interestingly, it has been difficult to get airlines to admit that, in addition to stuffing more seats onto each aircraft, they have also been making lavatories smaller. They have not been very forthcoming with the data when asked by journalists. Obviously, making everything smaller can cause captive customers who are already stressed out by the air travel process even more uncomfortable (which has ethical implications); but if everyone in the industry is doing it, there is precious little that anyone outside of the industry can do. Is this safe? is this healthy? Is this good for anyone but the businesses themselves? Indeed airlines want to squeeze as many people as they can onto each aircraft and this is why the federal government needs to step in.

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It is a bit ironical that all of this is happening at a time when most of society is struggling with being overweight, more and more people are carrying on their luggage, and far too many people are bringing their pets on board. It is becoming an increasingly uncomfortable and unsafe environment. These observations should underscore the need for federal guidelines (not regulations) designed to make sure that passengers are not only safe but also reasonably free from mental anguish. Guidelines aren't expensive to issue, but regulations can be very costly for both businesses and consumers. And guidelines, when they are not followed, tend to become regulations. No one wants regulations to be enacted, and so it would be prudent to start with some parameters, or guidelines, on what the government deems to be safe.

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The larger question here concerns whether or not government should intervene when an industry neglects to adequately consider the health and safety of its customers. And if it does intervene, to what extent should they do so? Guidelines, such as the ones currently in place for brands that market to children, are at least a prudent way to start the conversation. Self-regulation can work well if there are clear guidelines for an industry to follow. And when we consider the extent of the well-publicized customer service woes the air travelers have endured over the past two decades, it is clear that the industry isn't willing to to make any moves without some sort of intervention. For many air travelers, it is high time someone does something about the miserable state of air travel.


Discussion: Do you think there is enough of a problem for government to intervene? if so, what remedies do you suggest to alleviate the problem?

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