Thursday, July 02, 2015

First Class Air Travel

The German airline Lufthansa has installed air humidifiers in the first class of its Airbus A380s. "The humidifier gives a totally different experience," Lufthansa chairman and CEO Carsten Spohr told TheTimes of India last month. "Passengers arrive in a much better shape after a long-haul flight." 

Dry cabin air has been blamed for a number of maladies — though scientific studies on these are limited in scope — including for worsening jet lag and even for making airplane food taste bland. "The humidifiers will cause food to taste better, passengers to sleep better and afford them a greater sense of well-being," a Lufthansa official told the Times of India. The humidity in the air in first class is approximately 25%, compared to the economy cabin, where it's about 20%.

Not a big deal some would comment, but the fact that even the common people's ‘air’ isn't good enough for the rich in first class should tell us something. Air travel as an analogy to growing wealth inequality

As first and business class get luxury — bigger seats, better service and plenty of food and drink — economy is getting worse. Airlines are finding ways to give economy passengers less legroom, and fewer included services like complimentary checked baggage or even a bag of peanuts. Even some things you once thought were basic now cost extra.

The A380 manufacturer’s, Airbus, most recent innovations involves fitting 11 seats in each row of coach seating, which had previously maxed out at 10. And that's up from nine, which was standard in Boeing 777s for two decades, until around 2010. To squeeze in those extra seats, space between seats was decreased and armrests shrunk — and window seats are basically on top of the bottom curve of the cabin. The aircraft manufacturers are the ones doing the design, but it's the wishes of the airline carriers that make for smaller, tighter seats: More seats, more passengers, more money. Seat width started out small, back in the mid-20th century when initial designs were based on Air Force measurements for pilots, offering 17 inches in width. Over the 70s, 80s and 90s, seat width gradually increased to 18.5 inches — but now the trend has reversed as airlines look for ways to fit more passengers on planes, and many planes are back to 17 inches. As for seat pitch (the distance between the same point on two seats and an important factor in legroom), a once common measurement of 34-35 inches is now more often 30-32 inches, and budget airlines sometimes offer only 28. Boeing is working on adding capacity to its 737 narrow-body airplane model, which is used for short-haul flights. “When you’re in the low-cost, low-fare business, you’re always striving for that competitive advantage,” Boeing's chief aircraft salesman John Wojick said.

Meanwhile, recent offers in first and business class on different airlines include lie-flat seats, local and artisan food offerings, entire suites. Etihad's three-room suites, include a closed-off living room, leather seating, a chilled minibar, a 32-inch flat-screen television and a personal butler.

Airbus is presently busy filing patents for standing-room only “seats” for their short-haul flights. The design is meant to fit in even more passengers. The August 2014 issue of IACSIT International Journal of Engineering and Technology found that standing seats could add 21% capacity to flights, and potentially lower airfares by 44%.  "Theoretically, by having more passengers onboard the aircraft, flight ticket price can be lowered since the imposed operational costs can be shared by more passengers per flight," the studystates. "To achieve this, an idea of standing passenger cabin whereby the passengers are transported in the aircraft cabin in their upright position has been proposed to reduce the operational flight costs and hence the charging ticket price to the passengers." 

For passengers with the means to pay a premium, airlines are competing to offer the most desirable amenities. But for everyone else, the airlines' primary concern is how to serve more, not better.

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