Not your grandmother’s economy class

This was economy class on a 747 in the late 60s.
This was economy class circa 2014.

There are several very striking differences in these photographs.

  • In the 1960’s, people dressed for air travel.  This shows, at least in apparence, that people who travelled by plane saw it as something deserving their “best” face.  One can infer that this also means that these travellers would not accept to travel below a certain level of comfort.
  • In the 1960’s people who travelled economy class had more space available to them than people today have in most business class sections.
  • In the 1960’s people who travelled were thinner.  The obesity epidemic has been talked to death so there’s not much for me to add here other than to say shrinking seats and expanding arses doubles a space issue, even if your arse is not one of the ones expanding.
  • In the 1960’s there was a great deal less “safety” concerns in seating than today.  Can you find a seat belt in the 60’s photo?
  • In the 1960’s consumer demands were radically different than today.  Technology has obviously advanced, which changes what features are available in flight, but the photographs also show a dramatic change in the general interests of people travelling by air.  Culturally speaking, now is not the 1960’s.

Having been fortunate enough to travel a little in my life, I can say with certitude that air travel is a necessary EVIL if you want to see the world, but an EVIL none the less.  I can’t speak for the real comfort of a flight in the 60’s.  There are some very real discomforts that come naturally from defying gravity that way.  However, I can see from the photograph that, even tall persons could sit as comfortably as they would have on a sofa.

There is definitely room for modern airlines to improve, but, given the current state of affairs, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.   A flight to Hawaii using the plane similar to the one shown in the 1960’s photograph had been advertised for $460.  A search for a flight to Hawaii from San Francisco, CA in 2014 returned at $475.  It doesn’t take an economist to see that something went wrong in the business model and as a result, something had to give.  Is it any real shock that it is space?  With rising operating costs and greater and greater consumer demand for cheap flights, how can we realistically expect a business to give us more?  In the end we have to ask ourselves what kind of consumers are we:  the kind that accepts any condition for the cheapest price, or the kind that considers that in-flight time valuable enough that we are willing to pay a little more for it?

Either way, as a consumer, I still expect the airlines to stop treating me like cattle and remember that I am more than just the few dollars they’ve asked me to give them.  Ultimately, I don’t set their prices, I just decide if I am going to pay them, and for some airlines, because of the in-flight conditions, the answer is a resounding NO!