The computer and cell phone industries ceaselessly introduce new, exciting products consumers simply cannot do without. They run faster, can handle more tasks and generally make life simpler, and yes, better. Prices continually come down, new applications are constantly introduced, just about everyone agrees that we live in a golden age of consumer technology.
And then there’s the airline industry. Recently, the Italian aircraft seat manufacturer Aviointeriors introduced the new SkyRider seat, which requires passengers to half-sit, half-stand on a sort of perch intended to free up space so airlines can pack more people in. The New York Times recently dispatched their travel expert to test the new seat, which reduces the distance between rows from 32 inches to just 23. According to him, “sitting in one was more like being wedged, legs braced, on a stationary bicycle.”
In theory, the SkyRider will only be used on short flights, say from Newark to Hell. Presumably, the seats will be filled by budget-minded passengers who do not expect to get much high-quality work done during the flight—who, in fact, like to knock back a drink or 10 during the flight.
Travel, outside of first and business class is no picnic in the best of times, but the ergonomically unforgiving SkyRider seat seems to introduce a whole new level of discomfort. That’s why, before anybody goes out and starts equipping their fleets with these units it might be a good idea to consider other, somewhat less constricting innovations that would free up space without forcing travelers to suffer while confined on the mile-high version of the Procrustean bed. Here are a few suggestions:
Bring your own sleeping bag. Why not simply let economy-class travelers stretch out on the floor and take a nice, long nap? Travelers could be stacked one atop the other in berths like those on long-distance trains, and everyone would have plenty of leg room. Short-term bedding like this can already be found in Japanese train stations; why not try it in the air?
Same-day delivery. If tickets were cheap enough, many budget-minded travelers would be happy to get shipped to their destinations in heavyduty cardboard boxes. The boxes could be piled on top of each other in the plane’s cargo bay, and travelers would exit the plane along with the luggage. Being ejected via the luggage carousel would be much faster than going out through the front door. And no one would have to wait for their luggage. They would be the luggage.
Saddle up: Buy a single ticket on the SkyRider seat and your children, spouse, or lightweight friends hitch a ride on your shoulders. Or stow smaller family members in the overhead luggage racks and let the tiny ones shorter than 36 inches stretch out beneath your seat.
Taser economy class. As soon as passengers board, stewards will pop them with stun guns. They collapse in New York, get stuffed into a convenient storage bin, and wake up two hours later in Cleveland feeling oddly refreshed. Ideally, airlines would instruct in-flight personnel to fib, telling Tasered passengers that they had fainted, or perhaps had an allergic reaction to the honey-roasted peanuts they’d been handed when boarding.
Get Steve Jobs working on the problem. Long-term, this might be the best solution. Jobs has had an incredible run getting people to pay top dollar for elegant products, some with a relatively short shelf life. If Jobs had only devoted his energies to revolutionizing air travel instead of dreaming up the iPad, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Please, Steve, we could really use a hand here. Pretty please?