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​The endangered first-class airline seat

The international first-class airline cabin is going the way of the dodo bird.

Carriers are increasingly scrapping or reducing their first-class seats in favor of upgraded business-class seating. Quartz noted that the trend is due to airlines wanting to squeeze more money out of their planes, and business-class sections can fit more high-paying travelers inside than first-class cabins can. More high-paying travelers mean fatter profit margins.

Among the airlines doing away with first class on some of its planes is Cathay Pacific, whose new Airbus 350-900 planes include 38 business class seats but no first-class area. Singapore Airlines will also have no first class cabin on its A350s, featuring 42 business seats instead.

Flyers lose ground in battle over shrinking airline seats

It's not likely that many travelers will miss first class, given that only about 5 percent of consumers buy the high-priced tickets. Sometimes first-class seating can even lead to feelings of rage within the hoi polloi: Researchers have found that economy-class passengers who have to walk through first class to get to their seats have an increased chance of air rage.

Business class is increasingly similar to first class, with seats that recline and menus that include warm breakfast pastries or charcuterie, as well as a full bar. That means travelers may not be as willing to shell out more for first-class seats, even if they can deliver slightly more legroom or a bigger media screen.

Airlines are making other changes as well, ranging from adding more fees to different types of economy seating. Low-cost airlines like Spirit (SAVE) are asking passengers to pay for the right to reserve seats with their family members, for instance.

That fee has rankled enough consumers to prompt Congress to take up the issue. The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill included an amendment earlier this year that requires airlines to have policies to seat children next to their parents without charging extra for it. That bill may be approved soon, according to the National Law Review.

How to dodge those high airline fees

Airlines are also turning to "premium" economy seating as a way of generating more money. For a fee, travelers can book economy seats with a little more space than the typical seat.

The size of airline seats, by the way, is a hot-button topic among consumers. More than half of 2,100 travelers polled by Airfarewatchdog said they believe the government should regulate the size of airline seats, although they're not likely to have much luck on that end. Earlier this year, the Senate voted down a measure that would have prohibited airlines from shrinking seats even more.

Four decades ago, the typical economy seat was about 18 inches wide. Today, that has been shaved by about an inch on many airlines. Business-class seats on long-haul flights, on the other hand, can span up to 30 inches, the same as first class. Without much differentiation, it may be that travelers will opt for the slightly less cushy business class over its pricier first-class neighbor.

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