Traveling via Airways nowadays is becoming a task, hence, the aircraft companies and airlines need to put some efforts in the intervention of their services. Earlier, when flying was a pleasure for a few, it was rather comfortable too. It was a time before pushy security and long queues to board or to check in. It was a time when passengers could have some personal space for themselves on the perfectly padded and comfortable seats and with tasty meals.
However, flying has become more democratic. An air ticket between Delhi and Mumbai at the start of the millennium cost more, and not just in ‘real terms’, but in its printed value. Buying an airline ticket today is an incredibly easy process, you don’t have to go to a travel agent or the airline’s office to buy a long hand-written ticket. And those who flew back in the days of Indian Airlines is the sole carrier, the concept being waitlisted has pretty much ended.
Flying is not the privilege of a few anymore, and that is a great thing, especially in a country like India with a manufactured romanticism of the railways, much like that of agrarianism, which is damaging. As more people in India realize the value of time, flying is becoming far more popular particularly as flying is extremely affordable.
However, airlines cut services to be competitive in the era of expensive oil prices, particularly with older aircraft and onboard service. The cut in amenities, including longer seat pitches and restricted baggage allowances, seemed prudent at the time to survive. Airlines were bleeding, and even in India times were tough.
The collapse of Kingfisher Airlines with its initially extravagant onboard service, including proper meals and seatback televisions, was a cautionary tale. The airlines that did well financially doled out less service by being a bit cheaper and, thus, putting more people in seats at a time when budgets were stretched.
But as fuel prices dropped, airlines became used to the profits from these lower levels of service and wanted to take them further. A new generation of aircraft have appeared from the major manufacturers Airbus and Boeing that will bring in smaller galleys and in the case of Airbus’ new A321LR, a narrow-body jet that can carry 240 people over 7,500 kilometers, which is over nine hours flying time has space-saving toilets. As someone who flies quite a bit, the thought that airlines will choose toilets that are smaller than the existing tiny toilets is frankly, horrifying.
Sure, these new aircraft will make a lot of previously unviable routes possible but at what cost? Being crammed in a plane for long periods of time with limited facilities would make it no better than a suburban train in Mumbai at rush hour, a seeming assault of human dignity, and not a place for someone with claustrophobia.
While the civil aviation should, for the most part, be free of interference by regulators, as deregulation in the United States, Europe and to a large extent in India as well as proven, authorities across the world have to start examining how people are being crammed into planes.
There is no doubt that despite recent events, including a crash in Kathmandu, air travel is incredibly safe, definitely safer than being on the road. But such cramming of people in a small space should be a safety concern. Emergency evacuations in the recent past, including of a plane that crashed at Dubai, have been lessons in human behavior.
Evacuating a plane, particularly one with a single aisle with so many passengers on board and fewer main doors, is a problem. Most single-aisle planes operate with overwing exits or smaller doors. These doors are spaced to older standards and the fact is that human beings are bigger and taller than they have ever been. It is easy to wonder how the old and infirm will exit using these doors in the case of an accident or an evacuation.
Global aviation certifying and safety authorities have to consider newer standards for future aircraft. If so many people are inside a plane, it has to be made possible for them to escape and these narrow-body aircraft are now carrying the same number of people as much larger aircraft from a few decades ago, they must be held to a new standard, people have to be comfortable and they should be safe.
Air travel is more affordable and safer than it has ever been and it should remain that way, in fact flying should become more affordable and more Indians and people across the world must fly. A growing interdependence between people will bring not just better economic and social growth, it should play a role in de-escalating potential conflicts as well.
Air travel is a good thing but it should not be put in jeopardy. Cramming passengers in confined spaces will not just start a claustrophobia epidemic but could impact the popularity of air travel as well. This is not the same as traveling in a crowded train for a couple, because one is paying so much more than a train ticket, and people are right to expect a level of service.
Rising levels of frustration among airline travelers to various aggravations both real and imagined are seen on viral videos. A passenger stuck on a tarmac in a Plane in Europe recently opened the emergency exit to leave. He ended up delaying the plane more to the frustration of fellow passengers he was also put on a no-fly list. A video of an assault at Delhi airport also went viral.
So what should be done? I believe the aviation authorities should explore the possibility of mandating a minimum size of a seat at the very least, possibly toilets as well. Everyone requires a bit of personal space, even babies and solving that one issue would go a long way in making flying more tolerable. Nobody is saying go back to large seats and four-course meals even in Economy Class, but a little bit more respect for the person who pays to sit on the seat.
Writer: Managing Editor, The Pioneer
Courtesy: The Pioneer