Recently, Boeing announced their projections for the future of commercial airline travel; according the world’s largest airline manufacturer, the number of people traveling on commercial carriers is expected to double in the next 20 years. While this is great news for airline companies and manufacturers, it might be not be so beneficial for airline passengers.
To compensate for the rise in demand for cheap commercial flights – especially in Asia, where increased incomes and a growing middle-class are fueling the need for airline expansion – Boeing estimates that 37,000 new planes will need to be added to commercial fleets by 2025. Jet airplanes are expensive, however, and many airlines are attempting to forestall expanding by maximizing space – which also, coincidentally, maximizes profits – on existing aircraft by squeezing even more passengers on already-crowded flights. As Boeing’s chief aircraft salesman John Wojick states, “When you’re in the low-cost, low-fare business, you’re always striving for that competitive advantage.” Essentially, airlines are trying to see how far they can go – that is, how much discomfort they can inflict on their passengers – before people begin revolting by booking flights through more-comfortable private charter jet companies, or by refusing to fly altogether. Companies are betting that, if more discomfort also equals lower fares, passengers will continue to flock to airports in record numbers.
“When you’re in the low-cost, low-fare business, you’re always striving for that competitive advantage.” – John Wojick, Boeing
Boeing is already working hard to test the limits of customer discomfort and patience; their plan to squeeze extra passengers into its 737 narrow-body aircraft will reduce the space between seats by two inches. Though Boeing insists that this modification will only be implemented on planes flying shorter routes, most passengers would probably agree that, under current seating arrangements, they don’t have two inches to give. Airbus, too, has just patented a new seating system that removes standard conveniences like tray tables and seat-back televisions, exchanging these amenities for features like hovering bicycle-seat-shaped cushions which fold up when not in use. A spokesman for Airbus says that the company has no plans to develop the new seating system anytime soon, but the new patent signals an alarming trend by toward maximizing space at the cost of comfort.
Though no one knows what shape airline seating will take in the future, two thing remains certain: commercial airline travel is not going to get more luxurious anytime soon, and airlines are going to continue developing ways methods of squeezing passengers to the the limits.