The following is an opinion / satire piece. Read with caution.
A recent video posted by The Verge is making its way around the digital world, offering a glimpse into what the future of flying could become. This project, championed by Airbus, is leveraging a modular cabin set-up to create different customizable sections that can be easily loaded in between flights, and can provide passengers with different experiences, such as flying bars, restaurants and fitness centres. The concept sounds too good to be true and everyone is quickly jumping onboard. It seems the general public loves the idea – after all, planes today suck and who wouldn’t want a flying experience akin to something you would get on a cruise ship? Well…not that many people, actually.
Here’s the catch. Most people, in theory, want a Pan Am experience. However, at the same time, no one really wants to pay for it. Instead, we would rather pay Greyhound prices and complain how the aviation world is slowly approaching its doom. One thing’s for sure – when that actually happens, we’ll all be lining up for the Greyhound!
I find it fascinating how people criticize ticket prices for being too expensive for the service that’s provided, when in fact, they are the cheapest they’ve ever been. At the same time, passengers are going and booking flights on low costs, which provide no service at all. The funny thing is that sometimes low costs are actually only marginally cheaper than a legacy carrier, the latter which still provides some service and some other “perks” like not leaving you stranded in case of cancellations, or providing protection in case of a damaged luggage. Still, we would rather save that 50 bucks and hop onto a plane where getting a seat is similar to a scene out of The Hunger Games, and where the space between our knees and the butt of the person sitting in front is only divided by a thin piece of seat fabric. How did they know that having my knees right into a stranger’s butt is a scenario I’ve always dreamed of being a part of?
They know, because, well, we ask for it! Airlines have been facing massive pressures to lower prices over the last few decades. And as you’ve probably figured, keeping an airline running is complex and extremely costly. These birds don’t just fly on their own; they are literally propped up by hundredths of people, whose jobs are to make sure you’ll get to your niece Sally’s wedding safe and on-time, and with your stack of underwear arriving neatly in your suitcase, on the baggage belt. No one wants to have to go buy underwear the day before attending a wedding in another country, trust me. So it’s important to make sure that airlines can continue to do a good job and be profitable doing so.
Now back to the airplane of the future. On even the densest aircrafts, every single inch is maximized to ensure efficiency, load distribution, compliance with safety and emergency laws and revenue. Some companies are operating the infamous double-decker A380s in two-class configurations, with more than 600 seats. Yes, all these people in one metal tube, full of excitement and laughter like 600 Teletubbies cruising happily through the baby blue clouds. Or not. Either way, when a company chooses to, let’s say, bring a product like an onboard lounge for their premium cabins, they are making a conscious decision to remove seats to accommodate for it. Why? Because these premium seats pay the revenue necessary to afford having less people overall. For a company to introduce perks like a fitness centre or a daycare, they need to have a really strong financial incentive to do so. And when your average consumer doesn’t even want to pay an extra five bucks to get assigned seating on a low-cost, you really think they are going to pay a lot more, only so they can go jogging at 30,000 ft.? Let’s be real, they don’t even do that on ground.
As the average consumer keeps demanding lower fares, so will companies try to squeeze seats, remove perks and transition into a cattle transport business. Airlines know. Their marketing teams have ‘segmented’ the heck out of you. They know everything about you; from the seat you prefer based on your age group, to how much time they should give you at Duty Free to buy that oversized Toblerone for your niece Sally. They also know you’d rather pay ten bucks onboard for a sad-looking, overpriced, cold bologna and cheese sandwich than pay an extra ten bucks for your ticket.
Perhaps. Don’t be mad though. It’s simply what you’ve been asking for.
© Cover Photo by Lawrence Wang, Flickr