Looks like the airlines are about to put the squeeze on us again. I'm not talking about charging more for checked luggage or raising the price of an in-flight sandwich. I'm talking about the close encounter with your seat partners becoming even chummier. American Airlines announced plans to add more seats and cut the leg room in coach on some of their Boeing 737s and MD-80 jets. And other airlines promise similar changes.
Some of us remember the Space Age, when planes flew half full and center seats were used for storing magazines passed out by the flight attendants before every flight.
Several years ago, Arthur Frommer, the author of the "Europe on $5 a Day" series, which guided many of us through Europe during the 1960s, told me he remembered those days.
"There was a time when the spacing and height of airplane seats were such I could stretch out on the floor and sleep on an international flight," said Frommer, who used to curl up on a blowup mattress that fit neatly under three rows of seats when he flew to Europe.
Those days are ancient history. Today you're lucky to get a pair of size 16-EEE loafers to fit under the seat. And with airlines flying nearly full this summer, forget about ever seeing an empty center seat.
But it's not just the crowded aircraft that makes travel this summer uncomfortable. Turbulent weather -- tornadoes, record heat waves and hurricanes -- causes long days and frustrated travelers. Sitting on the tarmac in 90-degree weather makes fliers hot under the collar in more ways than one.
Last week, Cortney Cameron sat on the runway in San Francisco for an hour without air-conditioning while waiting to take off for Chicago. "It was incredibly hot," Cameron said. "And there wasn't an empty seat on the plane. Everybody was tense and edgy. I can see why there's so much air rage these days."
There are still some ways to ease the pain and avoid losing your cool. Here are a few things to consider:
• Take a hike. Many major airports have art collections and air travel museums. Arrive early enough for your flight and visit them. Stretching your legs and your mind before sitting straitjacket-style for several hours in your aircraft helps reduce stress.
• Compare conditions before you book. Check out www.seatguru.com. The website compares cabin environments for most airlines and lets you know what you're getting before you book.
• Keep moving. If you're feeling like a sardine, get out of your seat and walk through the aircraft. If you can't get out of your seat, try taking deep breaths and flexing your ankle and wrist muscles.
• Be realistic. Flying this summer will be hot, crowded and thoroughly uncomfortable. Pack your carry-on with comfort snacks, some favorite diversions and don't forget your sense of humor. And if you do lose it, remember the airlines thank you for giving them the business.
• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.