Clearly the American airline industry is in an even bigger mess than usual. They’ve been scrambling for the past few months, trying to find new ways to squeeze some extra money out of their customers and stretch their weak yankee dollars a little bit further. We’ve seen them require customers to pay for checked luggage, charge for water and juice aboard flights, ask a premium for selecting a window or aisle seat, add a surcharge on free flights obtained with frequent flier miles… And still they continue to hunt for ways to cut costs.
I loathe air travel (it’s hard to enjoy it when you’re busy gripping the armrest in white-knuckle terror while the crash sequence from the first season of lost plays an endless loop in your head), but I understand its necessity. I don’t wish to see the airlines fail, and I thought I might offer a few modest suggestions to help them raise a little bit of extra dough and try to drag that bottom line into the black for the first time in many a moon.
Allow customers to pay a surcharge that would prevent the person in front of them from reclining his or her seat. It just seems like common sense, really. Especially on those tiny planes the budget lines throw up into the sky, there are few things that make a flight more aggravating than some selfish jerk in front of you going back as far as they can and claiming the four inches of legroom that you had so your knees now rest firmly on your tray-table, even in its locked and upright position. Even if they weren’t struggling for cash, they should offer this. But since money is tight, why not turn it into a bidding war? You and the guy in front of you can each try to top one another, in five dollar increments, for the right to recline or not to recline. On long-haul flights especially, they could make a fortune.
Remove the seats in the back and add a "standing room" class. You can fit a hell of a lot more people in a space if they’re standing up than if they’re sitting, you know. And those seats have to weigh something- if they spin this right, it becomes a way for them to get greener. Getting rid of unnecessary weight reduces the amount of fuel consumed, like the excuses they offered when they started charging for luggage, and it’s hard to argue with the math behind the fuller flights you’d get if you increased the capacity of each plane. The relative carbon footprint of each passenger goes down the more people who are aboard the flight, assuming fuel consumption and emissions remain a constant. This is a solid PR move, and an extra dozen tickets for sale per flight, especially if those people are paying to check bags, would add up quickly. Fast-track this one, airlines, you won’t regret it.
Call the part where they instruct passengers on what to do in the event of an emergency landing a "flight safety class", and ask a $25 tuition fee. I know this would be unpopular at first, but they always insist that the information has changed, so clearly it must be vital. These are dangerous times, and preparedness is everyone’s responsibility.
Coin-operated oxygen masks. You know what else causes emissions? CO2. You know what puts CO2 into the atmosphere? People exhaling. At the altitude at which planes fly, any extra carbon is especially dangerous. Yet in the event of an emergency, what do the airlines do? They allow customers to pump as much CO2 into the atmosphere as they want, without requiring them to take any responsibility, fiscal or otherwise, for the repercussions of their actions. But at twenty-five cents for every fifteen seconds of air you breathe, you’d really consider just how much carbon dioxide you wanted to let flow from your lungs into the atmosphere. Again, it’s money and the environment. Who can argue with that?
Hire a precocious twelve year old named Kevin to walk up and down the aisles and hit passengers in the back of the head. Many economists* agree that one of the best ways to keep a looming recession at bay is to put more money in the hands of young people. Part of the reason that the US "stimulus package" was panned by critics was that the people who got their checks were likely to save it or use it to pay down their debt, rather than pump it right back into the economy. Kids, who hate saving and have no debt, blow their cash on video games and cigarettes that they get their cool older siblings to purchase for them. It only makes sense to employ more of them. This is another win-win. The airlines have been steadily working to get their passengers to accept all manner of indignities as par for the course, so why not hire Kevin? He’ll go up and down the aisles and slap passengers in the back of the head- unless they pay a surcharge. For just ten bucks in fees, you can enjoy a flight free of head-slaps and as peaceful as you’re used to, with only the constant interruptions of the pilot and flight attendants, crying babies, aisle-mate with the bladder of a five year old who keeps getting up to use the bathroom, and low, guttural whimpering from me to disturb you. What’s more, you can safely feel superior to those passengers who failed to pony up the surcharge to keep Kevin at bay, which has been part of the point of the airlines’ price plans for decades.
In just a few simple steps, I’ve saved an entire industry from bankruptcy. Someone hire me to be a CEO of something.
*who I just made up
(cross-posted to dansolomon.com)