I’ve had this story on the back burner for a week, but with passenger airline traffic slowly starting to rebound, I think it’s time we had this discussion. Social distancing is impossible an airplane. Sorry. Don’t like it? Fly private, stay home, or drive…
As a member of the so-called “entitled” generation, I make a conscious effort to reject personal entitlement whenever and wherever possible. Of course, there are limits…I’m not about to let airlines downgrade or cancel tickets without recourse because they later regret the transaction…but life is freer and happier when you don’t feel like you have the fight the world for what you deserve. Of course that is far easier for some to say than for others, but as a general principle it is undeniably liberating.
A new form of entitlement is rearing its ugly head across airports and onboard airplanes. It should be nipped in the bud. Namely, the idea that you are entitled to plenty of personal space onboard an airplane. All sorts of faulty assumptions are at play. Fundamentally, leaving middle seats opens does not provide the requisite minimum social distancing to be considered safe.
But more importantly, social distancing destroys an airline business model. That will be the main concern as demand returns and airplanes start to fill up again. To ask an airplane to only sell 2/3 of its seats is like asking you to just indefinitely live with 2/3 of your income each month. Actually, it’s worse. Because the aircraft still costs the same no matter how full it is. Pilots and flight attendants still cost the same whether they are serving full cabins or empty cabins. Most of the fixed costs persist independent of how many travelers are onboard. Put another way, the airline business is carefully calibrated to make money with high loads. Absent those loads, the business model fails.
Cry Me A River, Lady
A woman recently flew on a crowded American Airlines flight from New York to Charlotte. When she saw that the flight was full, she broke down and began to cry, then took to Twitter to complain. Her story went viral. She told NBC:
“They actually came over the speakers to say the flight was nearly full and that people would not be able to move seats to social distance.
“I really felt like my life and the life of everyone around me was at risk.
“I just sat there silently crying into my mask because I was really overwhelmed by how unsafe I felt.”
She was in the air because her grandmother died. I offer my condolences to her. But that is where my pity for her stops.
Well silly me thinking that an airline would adhere to social distancing guidelines. Currently abroad a nearly full @AmericanAir flight and I’ve never felt less safe or cared for in my entire life pic.twitter.com/sx5STfHKBI
— erin strine (@ErinStrine) April 25, 2020
Really? She doesn’t feel “cared” for because she voluntarily chose to fly and American Airlines is just trying to survive? And what if every person onboard had an equally valid or better reason to be on the plane?
Give me a break.
After Twitter erupted on her, she cultivated her message more carefully, framing her complaint in terms of expectations on Good Morning America:
“I recognize the risks that I was taking by agreeing to be on an airplane in the first place and while I wanted to believe all of the, you know, precautions would be taken that I had read on the airline’s websites, you know, there are lots of, lots of asterisks there.”
And those asterisks have always been there.
You want to fly now? Chances are you will still encounter a mostly-empty flight. But don’t think that will continue indefinitely or even for very long. Flights will fill up again and you will need to weigh the risk of flying, knowing that there will be other people around you.
If you cannot tolerate that risk without suffering a breakdown, you should seriously consider just staying home.
I’m outraged over outrage over full flights. How about you?