Saturday, September 25, 2010

class warfare

if there's anything that makes me want to commit my life and actions more thoroughly to the eradication of social and economic classes, it's flying internationally.

it just somehow gets worse and worse. this past trip to europe i flew on united, simply because that was the airline i had frequent flier miles available to use. it's one thing to have to walk past a reasonable first class section or business class section, with wider, leather seats that recline more, personal 'entertainment on demand' units, and more leg room. ok, i look at it with longing, but that doesn't really inspire rebellion in me.

but recently, airlines are upping the anty in providing comfort to these royal classes, at the expense of the rest of us peons. on my recent flights to and from frankfurt from washington dc, united now has no fewer than four classes in which to divide us: first class, business class, economy plus, and economy. first class, instead of being two nice seats next to each other, is now one pod-like structure that completely surrounds and envelops the traveler. the molded plastic 'seat' features an iPod dock, a huge TV screen with entertainment and games on demand, connectors for your laptop, a leg rest and foot rest that - get this - combine with the seat to create a bed that lays completely flat. completely, utterly, absolutely flat, with a nice soft white pillow and blanket. a bed. on a plane. this was not a huge plane - the regular sections fit seven or eight seats across the width of the plane - but first class fit only four of these huge cocoons across the width of the plane, each seat requiring at least the equivalent of two rows by the standards of economy. business class was more like first class than economy - smaller pod-like seats that were next to each other, but still featuring the seat that lies completely flat. both of these sections, of course, also feature better food and free drinks.

it's when you (finally) get to the ever-shrinking area of the plane that's carrying the bulk of the passengers that it really gets annoying. here, the cost of those enormous bed-seats necessitates that every other row of seats be closer together. in the rock-bottom world of economy - i.e., a normal ticket - the seat back in front of me was a mere inch in front of my knees. my knees. i'm not a tall person. in fact i'd go so far as to say that i'm about as small a person as you're going to find on a plane without including minors. i'm the shortest person in 90 out of 100 gatherings of adults (for those of you who think that's a low estimate, my cousin's wife wins at any family gathering). once i had carefully stowed my carry on under the seat in front of me, it was impossible to reach it while sitting in my seat with someone next to me, because my head hit the seat back in front of me long before my arm could reach the floor. the rows are so close together that they cannot recline as much, either. i spent the next 8.5 hours twisting in my seat that barely reclined, desperately trying to find any sort of comfortable position, without even the heretofore sacred international flying perk of a free drink to pass the time with.

that's how they've suckered people into - or as we say in economics, provided incentives to encourage people to - paying more for what used to be standard: this new economy plus gig. as you check in, as you approach the gate, as you're getting ready to board a stream of cheerful advertisements featuring happy, smiling people sitting on the plane with their legs elegantly crossed encourages you to 'upgrade' to economy plus for "five inches more legroom!" it doesn't get you a flat place to sleep, free wine, or better food. all it gets you is what used to be standard - a seat you can cross your legs in and actually lean forward enough in to retrieve something out of your bag. this is what they're doing, my friends. they are going to keep cramming the seats closer and closer together until suddenly the economy section disappears and we're all paying more for what we used to get standard because - ta da! - now it's all economy plus. i'm not usually a conspiracy theorist, but as i sat fully upright, legs straight in front, desperately trying to sleep on the way to germany, it wasn't hard to come up with such nefarious schemes being perpetrated on us by the airlines.

1 comment:

  1. i laugh, because it's so damn true! another example of the middle class shrinkage?