Air rage has become a sudden hot topic with a number of high-profile incidents grabbing nightly headlines. The common thread boils down to cheap plastic clips called Knee Defenders that prevent seats from reclining to preserve legroom (and knees) - obviously and unfortunately, at the expense of reclining for the poor passenger up front. How did this become a problem in the first place, is Elon Musk going to come to the rescue again and...seriously, what's up with that logo?
There's a reason why "air rage" is a relatively new phenomenon - it's because air travel wasn't always so frustrating. Back when the mere act of flying through the air was a luxury unto itself, airlines and services treated it like a luxury product. Men and women dressed up as if they were going to The Met and flight attendants did their best to ensure their passengers were comfortable on rickety, drafty plywood and steel tubing held together with fabric and dope tape (but at least it was pretty dang swanky steel tubing and dope tape!) As technology got better and airlines were forced to mass-market air travel for a variety of reasons, those luxuries were scaled back in favor of more competitive pricing and efficient operations. One of the major consequences of that being reduction in legroom in order to bring total seat capacity up and CASM (Cost per Actual Seat Mile, or roughly how much it costs the airlines to fly) down.
Nobody's very happy being crammed into ever-tighter aircraft, but we're pretty much stuck with little Band-Aid solutions like the Knee Defender to try to make things more comfortable for us even though we're essentially spiting the person in front for it. Surely, a better solution has to be out there, right? That's exactly what two wealthy men (including, yes, the usual suspect) are proposing.
Image from Her.ie. Yes, he's molesting that airplane. Yes, he's very well aware of it.
Micheal O'Learly is the CEO of RyanAir which can be more or less thought of as the crazy loser uncle of European Airlines. Yes, that guy who everyone's obligated to invite every Christmas but don't really want to because he's going to show up cosplaying The Dude by accident and at the same time is completely aware of it, and is going to scoot around the dining hall telling everybody about his new surefire investment strategies in the gold and commodities markets (as told to him by late-night commercials) and why lounging around in loafers is more important than a steady paycheck. The kind of character that only exists in sitcoms because sitcom writers still insists that kind of character is inherently funny.
Yet here we are with both O'Leary and RyanAir itself, proving that maybe those sitcom writers are on to something. Some of his great business strategies include calling his customer base a bunch of idiots, declaring that London Heathrow Airport should build more runways just for his airline at the expense of local residents (and while he's at it, claims wealthy Middle Eastern airlines have an unfair advantage because of "too many fucking planes"), and perhaps his most brilliant and greatest business strategy, promising to shut the fuck up and stay out of the way. Really, it takes some true business talent and acumen when shutting the fuck up qualifies as a revolutionary management style. Oh, hell, why not peruse this list of some of this greatest hits?
Oh, and did I mention his subtle yet controversial redo of the RyanAir logo? Compare this early RyanAir 737 "Classic:"
...with this much later RyanAir 737 "Next Generation:"
...and in case you haven't spotted it yet, perhaps you should refer back to the title and topshot of this very article you're reading.
Yet out of all of the crazy things to come out of his fratboy-inspired management style, nothing has urked more ire than his proposal to make passengers stand in flight.
Yes, that's right. Make passengers stand in flight. Suddenly those Knee Defenders don't look so bad anymore, do they?
Various patents for "standing seats," taken from Runway Girl Network
It's an idea so controversial the BBC has outright called it "a joke." Yet the idea actually has quite a bit of merit to it. At least that's what Airbus claims along with stating that their research into standing seats promises to be no less comfortable than conditions today (in fact more comfortable as it promises to make such discomfort issues as a lack of legroom and reclining ability a thing of the past) while increasing passenger capacity. Of course, O'Leary isn't just a major advocate for the idea, but surely one to claim it was his all along, adding that "The problem with aviation is that for 50 years it's been populated by people who think it's a wondrous sexual experience when it's really just a bus with wings."
The idea of standing up for a whole flight not exactly sounding sexy to you? Don't worry - Elon Musk and his Hyperloop! may come to the rescue and make all flight discomfort issues completely moot (well, at least for transcontinental travel).
The real promise of the Hyperloop essentially makes flying completely obsolete for most trans-continental travel - yes, that super-futuristic fantasy of flight that humanity has worked so hard on for centuries may just be done in by a glorified train. Well, a glorified vacuum train, just like on The Jetsons or Futurama. Hey, that is very futuristic-y after all!
With no threat of falling from the sky, CASM being a reduced issue and with much faster speeds (so that even standing-only room asks less time to tolerate) the Hyperloop brings a host of advantages airlines can never hope to compete with, if brought to fruition. Of course, the oceans will still require air travel as the most expedient means of getting across, but such routes tend to be served by massive widebodies with better interior room utilization. And there might be a standing seat in the near future coming to a widebody near you.