Airlines' new lie-flat seats could lead to a new problem: snoring at 30,000 feet
by Christopher Elliott, Herald columnist
Published: Saturday, September 24, 2011
While everyone else is touting the benefits of new "lie-flat" airline seats in business- and first class, I know I can count on you, dear readers, to find a down side.
And here it is.
As you probably know, a lot of airlines have been adding new seats to their premium cabins that recline into small beds. United Airlines last month announced it would spend $550 million to install these recliners and make other improvements to its fleet.
American Airlines, in an effort to outdo its competitor, even said it would add "turndown" service to its first-class cabin.
So what's wrong with that?
Well, nothing. I'd donate a kidney to have one of those seats on my next trans-Pacific flight instead of being squeezed into sardine class.
Except maybe this: When you sleep lying flat, gravity pulls down on the soft tissues of your pharynx. Your palate, tonsils and tongue are pulled backward, which narrows the airway just enough to cause -- yep, that's right -- snoring.
With some airlines moving toward flat beds in first and business class, what does this mean for people who actually want to sleep and not be bothered by someone who's snoring?" reader Merrill Albert asks. "I have been kept awake numerous times by someone snoring very loudly."
None of the major U.S. airlines address snoring anywhere in their published policies, and I wouldn't expect them to. That's because it's unusual for a passenger to sleep for any extended period of time, let alone get into a position where snoring is possible. Rather, the flight crew handles snoring incidents on a case-by-case basis.
"Yes," Pasquale Goglia admits, "it was me. And I put my CPAP machine on. Don't leave home without it."
(A CPAP, shorthand for continuous positive airway pressure, is a breathing therapy machine used by heavy snorers.)
"I always bring earplugs," reader Joe Reynolds says. "The wax ones that adapt to the ear canal and give a good sound seal."
Earplugs also help block some of the engine noise, allowing you to sleep. I always carry earplugs or noise-canceling headphones and an eye mask on longer flights. It's the only way to rest, and nothing stops a chatty seatmate like earplugs and blinders.
Kevin Morgan, an admitted snorer, tries to stay awake on flights to avoid a confrontation with another passenger.
I try as much as possible to stay awake on flights, but the tedium can get to me, and often I'm traveling with little sleep before I have to hit the airport," he says. "Caffeine only goes so far, especially when the service is often slow and skimpy on flights."
So he tries to warn anyone sitting next to him that he snores. He even brings earplugs to offer his seatmates.
I think Albert has made an astute observation. As the number of lie-flat seats expands, so, too, will the snoring incidents. What if the guy next to you is cutting a few very loud Zs?
"If I did have a snorer, I would jab them awake -- repeatedly if necessary -- and notify a flight attendant," Janine Johnson says. "It's a simple matter of keeping this sufferer awake till they can sleep in private. I sympathize with the person but again, they need to be considerate of others and take meds, get surgery or sleep before they fly."
I agree with Johnson in one respect: If you know you have a snoring problem, and you curl up in lie-flat seat on a 12-hour flight without a CPAP machine, you're being selfish to the rest of your seatmates (or in this case, bedmates). You have no right to keep everyone awake.
In another sense, this is a good problem to have. It means that airlines are offering more passengers the opportunity to have a good night's sleep, and how can you fault them for that?
Bring on the snorers, I say.
maybe some day they will have an air pressure outlet in first class, and all you have to do is bring your own mask "byom" and plug in and dial a pressure.
Whenever I fly, my cheap seats are so far in the back it takes me 30minutes to deplane.