The group between the upper and lower classes, what used to be known as the middle class consisting of professionals, educators and managers, are no more – they have been merged with the lower class to form “economy class”. Accept the euphemism and they would have you believe that business class is the new middle. Truth be told, business class is rich, and first class is even richer. What we have here are two classes and the middle is as blank as the stare of a flight attendant in a time of need.
The cruel irony is the crabs-in-a-barrel metaphor in economy class. Instead of minimizing the agony by sitting upright, most cling to the pretense of flying in style, albeit slave ship style. They recline for the entire flight oblivious to the absurdity of bargain posh. And then there are the chronic leg crossers, knee spreaders, armrest takers, nervous jimmy-leggers and boom-boom earphoners who violate personal space at will to make the flight a living hell.
If only there were straight back slide-forward-only seats with side panels to protect us from those selfish boors, and if only the airlines were not so lazy, we would not have to dread air travel. Until then, those in the middle can only hope to get rich quick.
Airline seating plans reflect the same phenomenon as the crew of the US Navy ship I served on back in the day when every able-bodied male had to enlist. It was a cross section of American society and revealed a vibrant middle class secure in the belief that the rungs on the ladder of success were markers as to the extent of one’s ambition. The measure of progress, of course, depended on where one started.
America was far from being perfect but nonetheless it was proof positive that the key to prosperity was “In medias res” (In the middle of things). Omitting the middle in the name of free enterprise is by all standards the ultimate of ironies. Even the fictional Gordon Gekko (“greed is good”) will admit that removing the rungs in the middle is bad for business. But the brilliant boffos at American Airlines have done just that.
By definition, economy class is the removal of all non-essential features to keep fares as low as possible and that also happens to be an apt description of steerage, where passengers packed into the hold of luxury liners are thankful just to arrive alive and in one piece. It is no way to treat people and certainly no way to treat those that are responsible for most of our good fortune and intellectual accomplishments.
Not long ago, an experimental airline dedicated exclusively to first class passengers fell flat without an economy class to keep it aloft. When the trail of indulgences that lead up to the first class lounge is explored we find that the rich are often flying for free or paying less for the actual flight than the working stiff in back. The insult is especially galling considering the substantial amount of taxpayer money that goes into the airline industry.
American Airlines Boeing 777 carries approximately 245 passengers, 51 occupy the best half of the cabin and 194 are seated behind the engines. That’s an obscene ratio of 6-1 that dehumanizes 95% of the population. It is an atrocity that is totally unnecessary because there is more than enough space to provide first, second, and third class options.
I say business class is luxury enough. Getting rid of the bombastic extravaganza of 16 first class seats that take up 30% of the cabin would make room for 56 business class seats. The rear economy compartment would remain at 127 and the space in the middle would house the remaining 96 willing to buy a little more legroom. There would be room enough to provide two standing room lounges, two extra bathrooms and bigger quarters for the crew.
All of this without any loss of profit to the airline but maximum profit is not truly the objective, maximum laziness is. The airlines, armed with 911 powers to do as they please, don’t bother with the extra effort that competition inspires. And things are about to get worse. The NY Times reported that the merger of US Airways and American Airlines will lead to more of the same but with even fewer options, higher fees, and tacit collusion. Bon voyage.