Thursday, July 30, 2015

Here’s looking at you, passenger in seat 23B.

I’m not an especially frequent flyer. In the last six months, I’ve flown to Phoenix, Chicago, and Edinburgh, and my overall annual norm is probably two to four trips. When I do fly, I always spring for the extra: a bit more leg room, an aisle seat, early boarding. Whatever’s on offer, it’s worth the extra $25 bucks or so.

Thanks to my late husband’s aggressive gaming of the free-miles-via-credit-card “system,” and with smaller thanks to the days when I did enough regular business travels to accrue miles naturally, I have flown first or business plenty of times. I have to say it’s great. Forget the little goodie bag and the edible food. What’s really nice about the upper class is that the seating’s a lot more comfortable. That’s the case whether or not you’re in a splosh mini-cabin of your own or just in a comfily padded, leg-stretchable, wide-body plain old seat. Not that I’ve ever been in a splosh mini-cabin. But I have been in those relaxer chairs where you can stretch out fully for the flight. Heaven, actually.

While it’s doubtful that there’ll be much high-end flying in my future, I’m always interested in reading about how first class is getting classier, with private cabins, Michelin-starred grub, ultra high thread count bedding, showers, butlers…

But as the airlines make more room for the elite travelers, they’re – surprise, surprise – doing so at the cost in comfort of the rest of us. All that extra space for the 7 foot long beds has got to come from somewhere.

I recently read that airlines were considering making the bathrooms smaller.  I guess they could put a fold-down sink over the toilet. Or, like Porta-Potties (or at least the best of them), just have some sort of hand sanitizer dispenser that emits a squirt of Purell. They could always get rid of the toilet and just have the hole in the floor with the foot rests on either side. (Hey, I’ve been to France a few times. I know how to use those suckers. Sort of.) Maybe they could design them so you had to back in, and/or replace the according door with a roll-down shade. But there’s not a lot of room to squeeze out of those facilities to begin with.

That leaves the seating arrangements, which are slimming down to make more space for the rich (or just so that more of the great unwashed can get crammed in):

Economy seats are narrower and closer, but they’re also getting less padded. Last year airlines such as Delta, United, American, Southwest, and Spirit swapped out standard cushion seats for slim-line seats. The name may sound stylish, but slim-line is a nice way of saying that perching on these seats can be about as comfortable as sitting on a park bench for a long-haul flight. Less cushioning means the seats take up less space. Less space means the potential to add more seats. More seats, of course, means more money.  (Source: Boston Globe)

Blame it on our steerage passengers’ penny-pinching ways:

“You’re not going to get people in economy to pay more,” said Michael Friedman, senior equity analyst at Delaware Investments. “So the question has become, to what extent are airline passengers willing to accept torture to save a few dollars?”

One of the answers to that question may be coming from Zodiac Seats, which was recently granted a patent for this:

Not only do these space savers look wildly uncomfortable, but the unfortunately monkey in the middle will be full frontal with their row-mates.

I really don’t think that any airline would be equipped to handle the number of passengers who would go berserk sitting in one of these honeys. Would they distribute Quaaludes with the “complimentary beverage”? Are they thinking of more air marshals armed with stun guns? Drop down oxygen masks that drop down anesthesia instead. (“I woke refreshed and don’t remember anything about my journey.”)

What’s next? Offering to ship humans in dog crates?

Me? I’d rather stay home. Unless I win the lottery, in that case, order me up a mini-cabin with a shower and butler.


Rick T. said...

In a lot of old sci-fi movies and books, space travelers were slid into narrow pods, put into some form of suspended animation, then awoken when the spacecraft approached the destination planet. Airlines should consider that - they could jam even more people in than now. The suspended animation part is easy - make each passenger have to read and answer questions about a spreadsheet on the computer of the person in the next pod over - that'll put anyone asleep.

mba student said...

I continue to be amazed at the (increasing) popularity of air travel given the steady decline in comfort, timeliness and customer service. I suppose some business people feel they MUST travel to establish/maintain face-to-face contact; but this is an expensive and unpalatable prospect. And what's really amazing is the growth of air travel for 'pleasure'. Enduring a day's worth (coming and going) of mistreatment by the airport, airline and security personnel -- sitting in a cramped, smelly cylinder with no access to healthy air, food, water or modern communications -- is not my idea of fun.