Airline seating may be the best concrete expression of what’s happened to the economy in recent decades.
Airlines are sparing no expense these days to enlarge, upgrade and increase the price of their first-class and business-class seating. As the space and dollars devoted to the front of the planes increase, something else has to be diminished, and, as multitudes of travelers can attest, it’s the experience of flying coach. The joys of air travel — once common to all who flew — have been redistributed upward and are now reserved for the well-heeled few.
Lufthansa is hardly alone. Delta, United and American have all announced plans to upgrade their business-class seats for cross-country and transcontinental flights. Then there’s Emirates, which now sells first-class suites — complete with a shower — that go for a tidy $19,000 on the New York-Dubai route.
Airlines haven't forgotten the middle and lower classes, Meyerson points out. One of the most successful of new airlines, Spirit, has low ticket prices, but also one of the lowest customer satisfaction scores Consumer Reports has ever recorded. This airline doesn't offer reclining seats, charges for water, and from $35 to $100 for a carry-on bag. (To be fair, not all new airlines are so predatory -- Virgin is widely loved, and treats its coach customers well.)
But Meyerson points out that one of the best of the new airlines, JetBlue, once catered exclusively to the middle-class, with no first class and, consequently, shockingly good legroom and wide seats, Now like other airlines JetBlue is is going for the money of the well to do.
JetBlue’s change of cabin configuration highlights what the changes to our broader economy have meant. Its ability to provide its customers with more spacious seats was the direct result of not having a first-class section. Airplanes, like stagnating economies, are finite, and if one class takes up more space or commands more resources, the other class gets less.
For some of us, air travel today has a toy prison aspect. Means having to prove your identity, turn everything in your immediate possession over to the authorities for inspection, taking your clothes off at command, enduring body searches -- albeit electronic ones --, and then of course being confined into too-small rooms and miniature seats, looking out tiny windows, down at houses that look as if they ought to be on a Monopoly board. It's surreal, but not in a cool, amuzing way, but as in a nightmare.
Hard to believe people ever saw this ordeal as a joy, but once upon a time, yes, they did. .