Why Are We So Hellbent on Making Air Travel Suck?

Illustration for article titled Why Are We So Hellbent on Making Air Travel Suck?
Photo: John Walton (Twitter)

Air travel sucks. It’s often the cheapest and most efficient way to get from one point to another, but the process is riddled with long lines, frustrating fees, grumpy people, overpriced food—you name it. So why are we trying to make air travel actively worse?


My question is inspired by the Aviointeriors Skyrider 3.0 seats, which debuted at the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2019 in Hamburg, Germany. I didn’t want to write about this terrible concept, but I have also been completely unable to stop thinking about it since I saw it.

In essence, the Aviointeriors Skyrider 3.0 seats are designed for maximizing the amount of people who can cram onto an airplane. The concept itself is terrible (are there not enough people on planes already???) but the way engineers have solved this problem is by creating even smaller seats that closely resemble bike seats. You know, the things infamous for making your butt hurt if you sit on ‘em too long. The passengers legs would be left to hang in the air like someone on a roller coaster, not a flight.

The point of these seats is, supposedly, twofold. The new seat is both a more efficient use of space than the current seat, and it’s also designed to add another flight class which Gaetano Perugini, engineering adviser at Aviointeriors said will be an “innovation for the airline and the passenger,” according to CNN.

The point, then, isn’t to totally replace our current economy seats with the Skyriders. It’s to create a whole separate class for these seats, an “ultra-basic economy,” that will be cheaper for the customer and allow the airline to squish more people onto a plane.

I, a rampant nihilist, reject the positives of claim.

Airlines have been narrowing seat for years under the guise of this same logic. If we make seats smaller, we can fit more people into them and thus can offer cheaper flights. Given that budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier often have the cheapest ticket offerings and the smallest seats, it makes sense at face value.


The Skyrider seats are a mere 23 inches long—and that’s at it’s longest part between your legs. There’s also that whole “bike seat” configuration to be dealt with. Those who are well-endowed in the posterior region are probably not going to have their entire ass fully on this seat.


There isn’t a universal standard for how big seats are in planes, but you can use SeatGuru to explore how big seats on certain airlines and certain planes are. The current smallest seat is 28 inches, which you’ll find on Spirit, Frontier, Air Canada and other economy flights. If you think that five inch difference is hardly noticeable, then you have likely not flown very much. I’m not the most perceptive or picky person when it comes to flying, but even I noticed when JetBlue cut their seat size by two inches.

The Federal Aviation Administration has opted against limiting how small seats can get as recently as 2018, as reported by NPR. They’ve argued that there’s no evidence that smaller seats are more dangerous in terms of making it more difficult for passengers to maneuver the plane or evacuate in case of an emergency.


The FAA, though, neglects to take into account all the other factors that make air travel suck as bad as it does. There are health concerns—think deep vein thrombosis, the so-called “economy-class syndrome” that results from long periods of immobility and cramped legs. Think about armrest hogs or the grumpy people who are pointedly miserable to sit next to for any amount of time, and how they’ll now be all that much closer. Think about how Americans are increasingly putting on weight. It seems cruel to ignore basic comfort in the name of economic efficiency.

There are plenty of reasons why plane tickets cost so much these days. But in my eyes, finding answers to creating more efficiency shouldn’t come at the expense of the passenger. With so much awesome technology coming to the fore in the automotive world, it’s high time for the aviation industry to start working on newer, better ways to deliver the same travel we’ve grown to love (or hate).


The Skyrider bike-style seats would probably be fine for the short flights they are designed for. I could see myself enduring one for quick flights from San Antonio to Dallas, or even from Philadelphia to Toronto if I was truly desperate. Anything longer than that, and I’d probably be ready to light something on fire. And I have no idea how very tall, very short, or anyone with any weight on them at all would be able to endure any amount of time in one of these things.


We already have bag fees, seat fees, change fees, snack fees—you name it. Air travelers are already shelling out the money. We shouldn’t also be expected to pay for the normal human need of comfort.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.



The older I get, the more often I find the answer is just capitalism.