The Effect of Flying on Back and Neck Pain: Survey Results

Airplane InteriorIn the summer of 2008, SpineUniverse conducted a survey to understand how airplane seats affect travelers' backs and necks. The original premise—that most everyone has back and/or neck pain after a flight—was proved right by the survey.

Across the board on all major and discount carriers, fliers find airplane seats in Coach or Economy Class to be uncomfortable. The survey found that AirTran had the worst seats.

  • 95% of survey takers who had flown AirTran said their seats were uncomfortable or even very uncomfortable.
  • 86% of JetBlue fliers rated their seats as bad for the back or neck.
  • American Airlines and United Airlines have uncomfortable seats, too, according to the survey. For American, 70% of people didn't like their seats.
  • 67% of United's fliers didn't like their seats either.

Southwest had the "best" rating—in that only 52% of fliers rated their seats as uncomfortable.

SpineUniverse also wanted to know what aspect of the plane seat most aggravated travelers' back and neck conditions. Then came a very key question, especially in light of airlines' current budget woes: SpineUniverse asked if travelers would be willing to pay an extra fee to get a seat designed for back or neck pain sufferers.

Full results are detailed below for the survey.

Read a lighthearted take on the survey, complete with tips on how to take care of your back and neck during a flight.

Question: After a typical flight in the last 12 months, what type of pain did you have?

  • Neither
  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Both back and neck pain

Result:
Survey: What type of pain did you have after a typical flight?

Question: After a typical flight in the last 12 months, did your back and/or neck feel…

  • Much worse than before the flight
  • Worse than before the flight
  • The same as before the flight
  • Better than before the flight
  • Much better than before the flight

Result:
Survey: How did you back/neck feel after the flight?

Question: What aspect of the plane seat most aggravates your back pain?

  • Lumbar support
  • Seat cushion
  • Seat recline
  • Seat width
  • Headrest
  • Leg room
  • Other

Result:
Survey: Most aggravating seat aspect for back pain

Question: What aspect of the plane seat most aggravates your neck pain?

  • Lumbar support
  • Seat cushion
  • Seat recline
  • Seat width
  • Headrest
  • Leg room
  • Other

Result:
Survey: Most aggravating seat aspect for neck pain

Question: If an airline provided seats with extra comfort for back and neck pain sufferers, would you be willing to pay extra for your ticket?

  • Yes
  • No

Result:
Survey: Would you be willing to pay extra if airlines offered a special seat for back/neck pain sufferers?

Question: How much more would you be willing to pay for a special seat?

  • up to $50 more
  • $51-100 more
  • over $100 more

Result:
Survey: How much more would you be willing to pay?

Conclusion
It must be taken into consideration that SpineUniverse visitors are more likely than the "normal" population to have a back and/or neck condition already. However, that doesn't diminish the results of the survey: back and neck pain sufferers are willing to pay an extra fee in order to have an airplane seat that offers more support and doesn't increase and give them pain.

Read a lighthearted take on the survey, complete with tips on how to take care of your back and neck during a flight.

Updated on: 09/01/15
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