Image via WikipediaThe Ryanair CEO, Michael O'Leary, not one to pay for advertizing if he can get cheap publicity, has really outdone himself this year. Espousing that no publicity is bad publicity, he has made many outrageous suggestions including “penny a pee” toilets, single pilot cockpits, and now a standing room only (SRO) section. In July, Ryanair, the Irish low-cost carrier, had said it would let passengers stand during flights if the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) granted permission. Presumably even the IAA isn’t stupid enough to let that one fly. Funny fliers will, no doubt, confirm that they’d be happy to stand all flight long provided a bar was installed. And, presumably, to enhance the atmosphere the SRO section would be sprayed with a toxic stew of stale beer, cigarette smoke, and vomit! And the toilets will only be cleaned every week. Or so. If they have time. Or not.
A Ryanair spokesman said that Boeing had been consulted over refitting the fleet with "vertical seats" which would allow passengers to be strapped in while standing up, which would cost between £4 and £8 per person. Vertical seats, an oxymoron or what? Safety testing will be carried out next year. However, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said the plans would struggle to meet safety requirements. You don’t say.
This is not the first time the idea of SRO’s has been aired, so to speak. In 2006 CNNMoney reported Airbus as denying that they were discussing with Asian airlines the option of padded backboards for passengers to stand, secured with a safety harness, thus increasing capacity. Padded backboard and a harness? Sounds like equipment more suited to a lunatic asylum.
Exaggerated stories of standing-room seating on planes have come up before, and they’ve been untrue, as the esteemed New York Times found out. Reporting, front-page top right above the fold as I recall, that Airbus had quietly pitched the standing-room-only option to Asian carriers but none had agreed to it. An Airbus spokes-purser flatly denied the report. "Our passengers and customers want more and more comfort," said Barbara Kracht a spokeswoman for the European aircraft maker. "We're going in the direction of more comfort, not in that direction." The story was later retracted.
But here we go again, this time with more substance. Aviointeriors Group, an Italian aviation interior design group has unveiled its new “saddle” seat. The makers say the seat would allow budget airlines, such as Ryanair, to cram more passengers into their already tight cabins.
The design, named the “SkyRider”, allows just 23 inches of legroom, which is about seven inches less than the average seat's space of 30 inches. Shaped similar to a horse saddle, passengers sit at an angle, with their weight taken on by their legs. It allows seats to be overlapped. Overlapped alright; on my lap, your lap, everybody’s lap lap. The seats would also offer storage space including a shelf for carry-on bags which, by the way, is about one quarter the size of the standard pull out tray table. Also provided would be hooks to hang a jacket or a handbag. Why not go the whole hog, so to speak, and tie people up and hang them from meat hooks, or nooses. Then they could be racked in on rails, much faster for boarding. The designers claim it does not affect passenger comfort, but do say it would only be suitable for flights of up to three hours. Well, the bar is already pretty low wouldn’t you say?
"We feel extremely confident that this concept will ... have great appeal to airlines for economic purposes," Dominique Menoud, the company's director general, told USA Today. Economic purposes, bugger the passenger. “For flights anywhere from one to possibly even up to three hours ... this would be comfortable seating.” And “The seat ... is like a saddle. Cowboys ride eight hours on their horses during the day and still feel comfortable in the saddle." Ah, but I think that cowboys are much thicker skinned than testy passengers. And they have steel balls which is what you’ll need to endure having your gennies crushed. He goes on “the passenger’s body (assumes) a comfortable, dynamic, upright and healthy position”. All this apparently said with a straight face! The presumption being that people are mugs and are only driven by low prices. Ah yes, the old herd instinct! Eminently suitable for cattle-class.
Joe Sharkey, the New York Times’ travel writer, commented that it was more like being strapped tightly into an amusement park ride. Without the thrills, presumably. No corkscrews or loop de loops then. The company added that the seat, which is in its final stage of testing, had been “designed and engineered to offer the possibility to even further reduce ticket prices while still maintaining sound profitability”. Says it all really, designed for the bottom line, so to speak. Joe also commented that “sitting in one was more like being wedged, legs braced, on a stationary bicycle”. Upper thigh strain sounds a distinct possibility.
They go on “The SkyRider is intended as a new basic class. The passenger’s seating position is similar to that of a touring motor-scooter rider. Agghh, a touring motor-scooter. They would use this analogy; they are after all an Italian company. But, sorry, I just can’t quite focus on this image of theirs. I’m thinking wind in the hair, zipping around Rome on a Vespa with Audrey Hepburn holding on tight, arms wrapped around me. There again, perhaps not.
And there’s more “The seat structure itself also provides space for personal baggage." Well, the only personal baggage you’ll be schlepping on board this aircraft is your tiny little brain that thinks this was a good idea. Just wait until the inevitable flight delays, and then you’ll wish you had space to stamp your hooves, snort and swish your tail.
I’m sure we can now look forward to a whole new category of dehumanizing classes for airline travel. We’re only one stop away from the following; split-level passenger decks with passengers strapped down while sitting cross-legged; special access overhead bins for that cramped submarine experience; coffin-class for the hardy traveler, in the hold; and finally Japanese-style passenger pushers to maximize the body, sorry, passenger count on the plane. What I like to call MaxPax.
Apparently a pusher is a worker who pushes people onto the train at railway stations during the morning and evening rush hours. When they were first brought in at Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, they were called "passenger arrangement staff". Nice one. Apparently it is difficult to shut the carriage doors when the number of passengers is over 200% of a train's capacity. You don’t say.