Patrick Smith, a writer for Salon.com, attempts to combine humor with common sense in his latest column, entitled "The Injustice of Economy Class." I think he fails. Three questions drive the piece:
First, would it really be too much trouble to engineer a tray table that is not eager to destroy your laptop computer when the person in front of you reclines?
Fair point. There’s nothing like (what Smith dubs) an "assault recliner" who rapidly reclines, either leading to food on your face, bruised knees, or a broken laptop–unless your reflexes are quick enough. This problem is made worse by seat-back IFE systems that cut into living space even more when a seat is reclined in front of you.
Smith posits that even one extra inch of legroom would help, but quickly dismisses the idea, stating, "This is wishful thinking, I know, at least on
Not really. With some notable exceptions like Singapore Airlines, the pitch on U.S. carriers in international economy class is not worse (and sometimes better) than their European and Asian counterparts. Plus, United (and soon Delta) offers economy seats with up to five extra inches of legroom.
His second question:
Is there any viable reason that a tray table cannot be designed with a small lip to keep food and beverages from sliding into your lap during climb?
Here’s an idea: don’t have your tray table open during climb! No further comments necessary.
Lastly, Smith questions the design of economy class seats, specifically about why U.S. carriers seem offer seats with fewer bells and whistles than some of their foreign competition. It is here where he displays a clear lack of knowledge and research about the true cost of an economy class seat.
Again, U.S. carriers ought to take a cue from their foreign competitors, on which you’ll often find ergonomically sculpted seats, wider video screens, extra pockets, cup-holders, leg-rests …I would like to think this isn’t about cost. A tray table is nothing but a piece of plastic molding. I can’t imagine that adding an indentation would cost more than a few pennies per seat — if anything at all. As to those other accouterments, we’re talking about a modest upfront expenditure for products that will remain in service for years, providing a more pleasant experience for fliers. Why would an airline say no to that? Yet, they do.
Here’s the bottom line: adding an indentation to a tray table does not cost a few pennies per seat–try 1000x that amount. Larger IFE systems and footrests not only cost money to procure (in fact, that is only a small part of the long-term expense), but they add weight to the seat as well as maintenance costs. Those costs add up to thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the seat.
I’d like nothing more than a Singapore-style seat and IFE on United, but it is simply not worth the cost. Do you really think the U.S. airlines would have held off on the seat upgrades Smith wants if they would have made money by doing so? If you want the fancy seat, fly the fancy carrier. Sometimes, you don’t even have to pay even more for the ticket.
But I’ll stick to my dull and boring economy class seat with free upgrades to business class and loads of frequent flyer miles. Even the Kettle flyers can earn frequent flyer miles on the cheapest fares. Try that on Singapore. There is a tradeoff, and I contend that U.S. airlines give us the better end of the bargain overall.