Seat Shrinkage

A recent federal court ruling has confirmed what those of us who travel frequently already know:  the passenger seating space on airplanes is shrinking.

A lawsuit brought by a group called Flyers Rights challenged the Federal Aviation Administration’s failure to consider regulations to address minimum standards for passenger seating.   The passenger space issue involves two basics of airline travel — the width of the seats themselves and the seating “pitch,” which is the distance between the rows of airline seats on a plane.  According to Flyers Rights, the width of the seats has declined from 18.5 inches in the early 2000s to 17 inches now.  And the airlines are constantly reducing the “pitch,” too — from 35 inches to as low as 28 inches.  Narrower seats, and tighter “pitch,” allow airlines to cram even more seats onto planes.

28up-legroom-master675Because nobody really cares about passenger comfort on planes, the Flyers Rights lawsuit was argued to the court as presenting a safety issue.  Flyers Rights contended that the combination of shrinking seats and expanding passengers would make it harder to evacuate passengers in the event of an emergency and might also cause more passengers to develop deep vein thrombosis and blood clots because they can’t move their legs.  The federal court hearing the case ordered the FAA to at least consider these issues and decide whether to issue new regulations.

Anybody who travels much knows these passenger space issues deep in their bones.  Most flights these days are totally full, and it’s not difficult to feel like a sardine as you wedge yourself into your narrow seat, put your carry-on under the seat in front of you and thereby restrict your leg room, and then find your legs clamped when the person in the next row up “reclines” their seat by a few inches, directly on top of your kneecaps.  And the cramped feeling is exacerbated when, as is often the case, the person sitting next to you is overflowing their designated seat space.  If, like me, you typically work on a plane and need to retrieve things from the carry-on under the seat, you need to make many minute adjustments, and cram your face against the seat back in front of you, just to reach your carry-on and get out pen, paper, and reading material.

It’s hard for me to believe that any actual study would show that an airplane is as readily evacuated with narrow seats and 28 inches of space between rows as it would be with wider seats and 35 inches of passenger maneuvering room.  But forget the safety issue for a minute — I’m wondering whether any airline will start marketing itself as the humane airline that actually offers more leg room for those of us in coach.

Hey, a traveler can dream, can’t he?

Keeping Maine On The Brain

We’re back from an all-too-brief trip to Maine.  We ate lots of seafood, hiked around, got out on the water, and gulped down as much of the salty, energizing shoreline air as our lungs could stand.  We enjoyed temperatures that never got above the 70s and evenings where the thermometer dipped down into the 50s, windshirts and hoodies were required attire, and windows were kept open for optimal sleeping conditions.

When I get back from a vacation, I always try to hang on to the relaxed vacation mindset as long as possible.  I hope to retain some Maine on the brain — for a few days, at least.

Harpsichord Heaven

On our last night in Maine we went to the St. John Episcopal Church in Southwest Harbor for a harpsichord concert by Gavin Black.  The concert benefited the Westside Food Pantry, which serves several of the surrounding communities.

Mr. Black played Bach’s Overture in the French style, which consists of an overture followed by a collection of short dances.  The piece allowed him to use both keyboards of his harpsichord and, through various minute adjustments in the position of the keyboards, extract all of the different sounds a harpsichord can produce.  Interestingly, he used a tablet device to display the music and “turned the pages” by means of a foot pedal.  The encore was a short piece by Couperin, one of Bach’s older contemporaries.

After the concert we went down to the basement of the church for a chance to talk with Mr. Black, who explained that a harpsichord is much closer, musically, to a lute than it is to a piano.  It’s an interesting instrument that produces lovely, distinctive music when played by an expert like Mr. Black.  It’s particularly well suited to the sinuous, complex compositions of the baroque era.

The little church, with a colorful (and sea-oriented) stained glass window above the altar, was a pretty spot for a concert, with good acoustics.  It was a treat to end our trip with some beautiful music and a chance to contribute to a good cause, too.

Aboard The Frenchboro Ferry

I’m a fan of the Maine State Ferry Service.  That’s because the MSFS provides regular ferry runs from points along the mainland to the islands found up and down the Maine coastline.  If you’re a landlubber like me and just want to get out on the water, you don’t need to charter a boat — you can just hop on a ferry and move from point A to point B the same way the locals do.


Yesterday morning Kish and I took a ride on the Bass Harbor to Frenchboro ferry. For a mere $10 a person, the ferry takes you away from the harbor, past islands and working lobster boats, to the tiny island town of Frenchboro.  If you’re just along for the ride, like we were, it’s a pleasant two-hour trip.  And if you see a porpoise, as we did, it’s an even better deal.


When the left the dock at 8 a.m. sharp, some morning fog was still hugging the islands, wrapping them like a moist gray blanket, as shown in the photo above.  On the open water, though, it was a brilliant, blue sky day, with lots of activity from the lobster-catching contingent.  


After we cruised into the snug harbor at Frenchboro, a gaggle of locals came on board.  For them, the ferry is routine stuff, and they sat up front, chatting away without a second glance at the no doubt familiar scenery.  Kish and I, on the other hand, sat in the back, the better to get unimpeded views of everything going on around us.  How often do flatlanders from the Midwest get a dockside view of a real working harbor and fishermen who think nothing of knocking back a can of beer at 9 a.m., the better to kick start their trip to the mainland?


When we looked into taking a ferry ride, the woman behind the desk at the ferry office recommended the Frenchboro ferry as more scenic than the Swan Island ferry, which uses a much bigger boat that also carries cars and trucks.  It was good advice.

In Lobster Land

Psst!  I’ll let you in on a well-kept secret:  Maine has really excellent fresh lobster, in abundance.

No, seriously!  It does!  And I have enjoyed it at just about every meal.  I’ve had lobster and eggs for breakfast.  I’ve had a lobster roll — lobster meat on a split-top hot dog bun — for lunch.  (The Fish Net in Blue Hill makes the best one.). I’ve had baked lobster, boiled lobster, and steamed lobster.  I’ve bought live lobsters directly from a lobsterman.  I’ve eaten lobster on a beach where we’ve recycled the remains to the denizens of the deep.  And, for my first boiled lobster of the trip, I foolishly failed to bib up and ended up coating my shirt with water and lobster innards with the first crack of the claw.

After so much lobster, I’ve got just one question:  how much lobster do you need to eat to risk a bout of gout?

Climbing Mt. Cadillac 

Yesterday we ventured over to Acadia National Park to hike up Mount Cadillac — the towering peak situated right on the coastline that is the first place in America struck by the rays of the rising sun.  It’s a popular destination that offers staggering views of the jagged Maine coast.  Most people drive up to the top — but heck, anybody can do that.  Hiking up is more fun and a bit of a challenge, besides.


We chose the south ridge trail, which begins along a road and, for the first mile of so, takes you through a dense, almost primeval forest.  At that point you emerge above the tree line and are exposed to the first of the sweeping vistas that this hike affords — with views that just get better and better as you gain altitude.  You follow blue trailblazing signs painted on trees and then on the granite of the mountain itself, as well as rock cairns that also mark the way.


The trail takes you along the granite spine of the mountain, shown in the first picture above, and you actually feel like you are moving from knob to knob on the gigantic backbone of a huge, hunched-over creature.  Eventually you are treated to a commanding view in all directions and can see dozens of miles to faraway peaks in the Appalachian chain.  You also pass a beautiful pond that is covered with velvety, impossibly green shoots, shown toward the middle of the photo below, and you wonder:  “what is that doing way up here?”


It’s not a difficult climb, but it’s a rewarding one nevertheless.  When you reach the top, having clambered up the last few rock faces, you can stare slack jawed in any direction.  The rocks at the top are covered with people, and no wonder — the scenery is spectacular.  It’s one of those spots that simply can’t be captured in a photograph.  But I’ll always remember it.