How much comfort and service are you willing to sacrifice in exchange for a marginally cheaper airfare?
That is the question the Big Three airlines (American, United and Delta) decided to pose to travelers last year when they announced the introduction of unprecedently spartan “basic economy” fares.
The relative (dis)comfort that comes with those fares has existed on a spectrum in the months since, with carriers testing different seating configurations, baggage policies and fee-hiding gambits to figure out just how poorly they can treat a customer before he/she will actually decline to buy a ticket. Verdict: we're suckers for a bargain, and basic economy fees are definitely here to stay.
But things reached a new low this week at the Aircraft Interiors Expo, where airplane supply company Aviointeriors introduced the SkyRider 2.0, a seat prototype that leverages an obtuse seat angle to spread a passenger's body mass vertically, thereby diminishing legroom to a draconian 23 inches. For comparison, the least amount of legroom on major carriers at present is 30 inches (American Airlines economy, for those wondering).
The new seats — which are yet to entice a buyer, according to The Points Guy — would not allow for more total seating on an airplane, but rather for greater legroom in more expensive classes, like premium economy or business.
Offering different product options to customers on different budgets is, of course, a tentpole of a capitalist economy.
But with measures like this, one can't help but envision a not-so-distant future in which every passenger lines up according to income and then boards in order, the size of the seats diminishing little by little from first class to last, until some penniless contortionist in the back has to crawl up into the overhead, minding his fingers as the door latches shut behind him.