Rethink needed for cattle class

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 April, 2015, 6:51am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 April, 2015, 6:51am

Only the more sensational or outrageous air-rage incidents get reported in the news, but conflicts and anger among flight passengers are everyday occurrences. Have we become more uncivil towards each other? Or are there some other factors? A public hearing, held by an advisory group set up by the US Department of Transportation, points towards the latter.

The rise of mass air transportation means more people are flying than at any time since the birth of commercial aviation. Yet, services are being cut and inflight space is constantly shrinking. No wonder there are so many grumpy passengers fighting over reclining seats, elbow room and overhead storage space.

The economics of the cattle class has really made us all cattle. After years of bankruptcy and major losses, global airlines are finally profitable again. Some Asian airlines have fared better, but the same general trends apply.

This has meant squeezing more and more people into ever smaller spaces while imposing charges on previously free services such as carry-on luggage. To seek small relief, there is now even a so-called economy premier, which charges extras but offers nothing else but more leg room.

There is an emotional limit to people crammed into confined space before some experience distress and act unpleasantly.

As a hearing participant put it, the United States and many countries have regulatory standards for animals travelling in cargos but none for humans. "It's time to take a stand for the humane treatment of passengers," the person said. However, industry lobbyists have argued the important factor for most people travelling is price. If people want low airfares, they can't expect to have the same creature comforts.

Nevertheless, there needs to be a balance, and the global aviation industry has tilted towards relentlessly shrinking space and cutting costs. It's time for an industrywide rethink.