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In cutting legroom, airlines are giving travelers what they want: lower fares

Huck Finn once chafed at living with a very proper widow who kept making the rascal put on new clothes, leaving him feeling “all cramped up.” Today, airline passengers keep finding themselves in newly configured seats, more cramped up than ever. But before they take to the river on a raft to show their independence, as Huck did, they should put their money where their knees are. Or, if they’d prefer, just make do with the cramping.

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According to the Newton-based TripAdvisor, 41 percent of airline travelers yearn for more legroom; it’s their number one complaint. But a whopping 71 percent say they won’t pay more for it. Instead, passengers crave lower fares, and have shifted in droves to lower-cost airlines like Southwest.

Now, the highly popular Southwest is shrinking the space between seats by yet another inch, to 31 inches, while cut-rate Spirit Airlines is down to a painful 28 inches. The airlines are giving people what they want: The cheapest possible transportation. Huck Finn probably would have resented the tradeoff. He loved his raft because, he declared, “Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery.” Today’s Americans share Huck’s desire for freedom, but not his empty pockets: Smothery will do, if it squeezes a few dollars off the fare.

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