The depressing news for people of size, such as myself, this week is that we are about to be squeezed out of economy class on yet another airline.
It’s been reported that Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific will follow several other carriers and introduce 10-abreast seating on its Boeing 777 aircraft.
Now, I do understand the current economic reasons why airlines want to get as many people as possible on their aircraft. But I see this as a very short-term solution to an — ahem — bigger problem.
Reducing the size of the average seat makes every passenger uncomfortable. In the case of larger passengers, it’s not just them but the people beside them who will suffer.
And before we go any further, for the past few years, I have mostly paid extra to fly business class or premium economy because I want to be comfortable myself and I don’t want to upset fellow travellers. But I can afford to — and I choose to — do that.
What of the people who need to fly for business reasons, or simply want to fly for pleasure, and cannot afford the exorbitantly high cost of premium seating?
And what if, like me, they are frequent travellers who, over the course of a year, put a lot of money into their favoured airline’s pocket? Does their loyalty not entitle them to a little more?
The only reason for a four- or five-star airline to put more seats into an aircraft is to compete with budget carriers, whose passengers either don’t fly frequently or have made a conscious choice to put up with the discomfort for the sake of another day lying on the beach (or whatever floats their boat).
Following their lead is a race to the bottom that will only turn good airlines into bad ones.
What the likes of Cathay Pacific should be doing, in my humble opinion, is offer a range of seating options that suit their passenger profile.
If they decide that skinny or masochistic once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime passengers are their target market, then they should have 11 or 12 seats abreast, and have a few more people standing in the aisles and sitting in the overhead lockers.
But if they want to serve their frequent customers well, they should look at other options. I believe that many people will pay a little more to be comfortable. Marketed properly, an old-style, more roomy, economy cabin could be a big point of difference.
Update: I’m not so outraged about Hawaiian Airlines’ new policy to coordinate seat allocations to distribute weight around the cabin. That just makes sense in terms of overall safety.