Flying steerage

I flew out to New York last weekend, just for the weekend, to see my youngest brother get married. It was a little crazy, but considering how screwed up my sleep patterns are now that we’ve got a baby the jet lag was nothing. I flew with an airline that rhymes with Air Schmance and on the flight back I was on an A380, the new double-decker plane made by Airbus. With the exception of 9 “First Class Suites” at the front of the plane, the entire bottom deck is economy class. The upper deck has 80 “Business Class Angle Flat Seats” and 38 “Premium Economy” seats at the very back, which is funny because flying in the back of plane sucks. Lufthansa A380 interior There’s something kind of beautiful in the full-circle-ness of having what amounts to steerage class on planes now. Keep the riffraff on the bottom, away from the people that really matter. Back to the days of immigrant ships sailing across the Atlantic.

Here’s the thing that really makes me laugh about air travel nowadays, particularly with the big national carriers, but ironically with the low-cost airlines, too: The vast majority of people flying are flying in economy class (the class where you’re still paying an arm and a leg, but it’s the very least you can pay) and yet, with very little exception, every shop in the airport, every page of the in-flight magazine, every item in the duty-free catalog, is marketed to people with money, and lot’s of it. On the A380 I flew, roughly 82% of the seats are in economy. On a full plane, that means 82% of the people are paying as little as possible. But in the pocket in front of every seat is a magazine chock full of articles discussing exotic island vacations, Southeast Asian resorts where the nightly rate is twice that of an economy seat on the plane, write-ups on perfectly great cities where the only accommodations and restaurants listed are so ludicrously expensive it borders on parody. “Visit Berlin! Stay in the Soho House! The only restaurants we’ll tell you about are on Ku’damm!”


I was thinking about why this is, because at first glance it seems rather illogical. The airlines say, though, and I don’t necessarily doubt the reasoning, that even though the majority of their passengers fly in economy, the first and business class passengers are where they make all their money. Judging by the ticket prices, I can see why. So, I suppose, it would follow that marketing expensive, luxury goods and vacations to passengers makes sense because the people spending money on stuff while they travel are the people with lots of money who fly first class and go for flakes of gold sprinkled on dessert that you shit out later (this was in an article in Schmitish Airways last year).
Here’s another theory, though: flying was always seen as a high-class means of travel. Back in the 60s and 70s, the jet age, the heyday of air travel, flying in a plane was a pretty amazing activity in and of itself. There was a whole aura around flying that just made it seem like the coolest, classiest thing you could do. Even into the 90s this was essentially true. That has obviously changed since the introduction of security theater, high fuel prices and airlines trying to nickel and dime you for everything they can. But the airlines and airports still want you to think flying is high-class, so they can kinda-sorta justify the insane prices of airline tickets, even in economy class, nowadays (even though you get less and less for the money). And what better way than to inundate you with luxury bullshit everywhere you look.

“Dang, Ma! They got a Gucci store and a Cartier store and a beauty salon and I can buy a bottle of perfume that costs 500 dollars! Flyin’ in these aeroplanes is fancy!”
71/365: Modes of Transport

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