Airplanes Are Just Like Slave Ships, Says Some Kind of Expert

Illustration for article titled Airplanes Are Just Like Slave Ships, Says Some Kind of Expert

Steven Heller is a celebrated expert. His area of expertise is graphic design. In other words, he sees order in patterns in ways that the layman cannot. For example, in a piece today for entitled "A Curious Similarity," he couldn't help but notice the parallels between airplane seating arrangements and slave ships. Wait! Let him explain. He backs it up with visual evidence and everything:

I don't want to trivialize the inhumane horrors that African slaves endured on slave ships (above) destined for the Americas. But after a recent airplane trip, sitting tightly next to my neighbor in steerage seats, I feel the discomfort and pain endemic to the current air experience has certain curious similarities.

Ever notice how similar the seating plans of airplanes resemble the more horrific layout (yet efficient design of those slave ships)? Could airplane designers be unconsciously influenced by them?


Shockingly, commenters took issue with the comparison, which they deemed somehow to be grossly insensitive. (Design nerds are so touchy.) Here's an example:

"I'm looking forward to your insight and humorous parallels ‘tween Auschwitz and fat camps."


They grow angrier from there. Heller, meanwhile, having realized he touched a nerve, apologized — kind of — writing it off to poor judgment and that old, "C'mon, it's just the internet!" excuse. [, image via]

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There are times that a person makes an observation that they might think as clever, or insightful. They might even be right. But there is no way to share that observation without sounding like a complete tool.

Are the designs similar? Maybe. Were the results the same? Nope. Was there different outcomes for the people on the different ships? Yup. On the plane, people arrive at Denver, Jamaica, or Toronto kind of cramped, maybe angry at the fact the trip took 4 hours instead of two, and their neighbor was chatty. On the ship, one arrives after months of forced travel, with bad food and horrible living conditions to be made to work for free. Was the seating arraignment similar? Could be. Is the comparison a bad idea? Sure is!

Its kind of like that sports announcer that commented on how the slave ships made better american athletes. I suppose it is possible that through concept of natural selection some of the people that arrived in America were excellent physical specimens, but to try and say that it was a good outcome for them is horribly misguided.