Saturday, September 16, 2017

Life and Death in Cattle Class

They still like to call it "economy" or "coach" but to a lot of people it's now just "cattle class" and it's no laughing matter. In fact it could be deadly serious.

Go back far enough, back to the early jetliners such as the 707, the DC-8 and the first 747, and air travel was fun, comfortable and, if you got the right carrier, such as Ward Air or Lufthansa, it might even be a bit elegant.

The 707 and the DC-8 are long gone and so, for most passengers, is any trace of fun or comfort much less elegance. It's all a war of elbows, knees and arses today - oh, and a complimentary bag of peanuts or cookies or some other form of crap. The fun and comfort and elegance, that's for your betters sitting in those neat seats in the front of the aircraft. 

Over the decades airlines have focused on cramming as much fare-paying humanity as possible into the available space in the bilges.The seats, even the aisle, have gotten narrower. The "pitch" between the rows, what humankind might call legroom, has been truncated as though, by the doing, your legs might somehow retract into your hip sockets and they do try without much success. There's no extra charge for misery. Deep vein thrombosis is absolutely free.

Now a US consumers group, Flyers Rights, has the FAA before an the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals and the airlines aren't enjoying this one bit.

For years the airlines have been allowed to steadily shrink the size of coach class seats and the space between seat rows without regulators considering the impact of this on safety. A Daily Beast investigation has found:

• The tests carried out to ensure that all the passengers can safely exit a cabin in an emergency are dangerously outdated and do not reflect how densely packed coach class seating has become—or how the size of passengers has simultaneously increased;

• No coach class seat meets the Department of Transportation’s own standard for the space required to make a flight attendant’s seat safe in an emergency;

• Neither Boeing nor the Federal Aviation Administration will disclose the evacuation test data for the newest (and most densely seated) versions of the most widely used jet, the Boeing 737.

The court ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to respond to a petition filed by Flyers Rights to promulgate new rules to deal with safety issues created by shrinking seat sizes and space in coach class cabins.

Furthermore, the court complained that the FAA had used outdated studies to argue that no change was needed in the way emergency evacuation tests are carried out—and, at the same time, had refused to release details of the test results because they involved proprietary data.

The Daily Beast has since examined more than 900 pages of Department of Transportation documents and FAA regulations that address the way airplane cabins are configured to ensure rapid evacuation in an emergency. All of the tests designed to achieve the fastest possible evacuations were devised decades before the appearance of budget airlines greatly increased the density of seating and, in particular, before the size of seats shrank and the space between each row of seats similarly shrank.

Honey, Does This Seat Make My Ass Look Big?

In bringing the case, Flyers Rights documented what this contraction of space means in actual inches. Two measures are particularly critical in deciding the ease (or otherwise) of evacuation: the dimensions of the seats themselves and the extent of the space between seat rows, measured from the top of one seatback to the next, called pitch. Flyers Rights said that in coach the pitch has decreased from an average of 35 inches in the early 2000s to 31 inches today—and in an increasing number of cases it has now shrunk to 28 inches. In the same period average seat width has shrunk from 18.5 inches to 17 inches.

Paul Hudson, the president of Flyers Rights,[argues] that the disparity in the density of seating between classes of cabin was “a Titanic waiting to happen,” comparing the plight of passengers in coach with the plight of steerage class passengers on Edwardian-era steamships where priority in an emergency was given to first- and second-class passengers.

Furthermore, Hudson is concerned that the space between seat rows has become too tight for passengers to adopt the brace position illustrated on the emergency evacuation instruction cards supplied to every passenger, in which passengers are told to lean forward and cover their heads with overlapping hands to lessen the risk of head and spine injuries in a violent crash landing.


Lorne said...

A very telling post, Mound. It seems to me that the steerage-like treatment of regular passengers today stands as an apt metaphor for how neoliberalism has reduced all of us to simply a means to handsome profit. The more human cargo airlines can cram in, the better their bottom line.

Tal Hartsfeld said...

Society's in dire need of establishing a different concept and idea of what comprises a "bottom line".

The Mound of Sound said...

Well put, Tal. Bottom line, indeed.

We are cattle class, Lorne, a commodity of trade to be conveyed as inexpensively and efficiently as possible.

Toby said...

The abuse persists because the airlines can get away with it. The moment people decide not to travel by air there will be all sorts of incentives such as comfortable seats, good meals and free baggage handling. As it is, cheap tickets sell.

Frankly, I won't miss it if I never get on another airplane.

Trailblazer said...

It's not so many years ago that airlines were not a good investment!
I find it amazing what the lure of cheap drinks in a sunny climate will do to the average traveller.
Perhaps it's the drudge of everyday work that drives people from the lifeless existence of city dwelling to head off and blow steam?


The Mound of Sound said...

And now we're carting around the herd in such droves that the locals are taking to the streets in protest from Spain to Venice to Croatia. It's only recently that I fully realized how different "touring" Europe was in the 60s contrasted to today. Aside from the monolithic sites, much of the Europe I was acquainted with in the 60s and 70s, the culture, the tranquil way of life, has passed away. You can't wander through Stonehenge in the pre-dawn hours any more and the visitor lines I saw at the Tower of London would have been shocking 50-years ago. In Britain pubs are closing and the high streets are dying a miserable death. So much of that way of life has been displaced. I sometimes go to Google Earth/Google Street and visit places I once knew well, places I frequented, places I lived, only to find how little of what was still remains. It's left me with no interest in revisiting. I'm done.

Northern PoV said...

"the Europe I was acquainted with in the 60s and 70s"

I celebrated my nineteenth birthday in Amsterdam in 72 and I went to the Stedelijke Museum with my buddy, presented our student cards and asked to see their Escher collection. Thinking we were art students, they gave use two boxes of original Escher prints and a desk and chairs. What a wonderful hour that was!

I returned many times and lived there for two years in the late 70s. Now my friends are abandoning Amsterdam cause they can't live with the constant volume of tourists.

Trailblazer said...

It's left me with no interest in revisiting. I'm done.

Try rural France ; try the forgotten North UK.
They both have something left of times gone by.
The major centres of the world have been homogenised and harmonised to a point where they do not differ.
The exception from my experience , this year, was Paris.
Paris is the city everyone wants but seldom finds.

British Pubs are not what they used to be.
They have not made the transition from pub to bistro/cafe in the Euro mold.
They are hell holes of un supervised screaming children running around; warm beer guzzling parents eating meals that do not know that there are more vegetables than carrots and peas!

There are still gems worth the visit such as the National Railway Museum at York; free entry to peruse the best of British past!!


Trailblazer said...

Furthermore, the court complained that the FAA had used outdated studies to argue that no change was needed in the way emergency evacuation tests are carried out—and, at the same time, had refused to release details of the test results because they involved proprietary data.

Where have we heard this before?
Industry making regulation !!

When the first mega airliner goes down in smoke the airline industry will relent after first claiming chapter eleven and restructuring after lawsuits.

A Bit like the financial collapse of 2007/2008 ; the taxpayer will pick up the tab.


The Mound of Sound said...

It's not our world anymore, NPoV. A subsequent generation has the field and it seems from local reaction they're making a mess of it. Yet Trailblazer has a point. I have thought of revisiting the furthest corners of the UK. The Welsh border with the classic Norman castles, Polperro and the Moonraker villages of the southwest coast, the Wye River valley and north to my mother's ancestral area of Pitlochry, Scotland. Perhaps I might even find a suitable motorcycle to cap it off. Then again there are many parts of my own magnificent province yet to be explored. So many opportunities, so little time.

Trailblazer said...

Does not come better than this!!

The Mound of Sound said...

Trailblazer, that clip was awesome. And YouTube then began a series of Harry Enfield clips. Harry Enfield. Just awesome.

Trailblazer said...

Awesome! next it will be 'like awesome'.
Your language is becoming 'cool'.
Perhaps you ,and I, are just defying the aging process?


Trailblazer said...

The boss of Ryanair, Michael O'Leary, walks into a Dublin bar and orders a pint of Guinness. The Landlord says, "That'll be one Euro please Mr O'Leary." O'Leary replies, "You're a man after me own heart, do you know all the other bars around here charge five Euros for a pint of Guinness?" The Landlord responds, "I have to be honest Mr O'Leary - I took a leaf out of your book, slashed the cost of everything and business is booming!" O'Leary hands over one Euro with a smile, the Landlord asks, "Will you be wanting a glass with your Guinness sir ?"


The Mound of Sound said...

That was good, TB. I'll remember that one (I hope).