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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.