There are so many important issues in the world — income inequality, climate change, war, political instability, repression, and terrorism, to name a few — that to complain about a consumer service available to economically privileged individuals and companies seems shallow. “Oh, you’re inconvenienced and unhappy about it, why don’t you take a mood stabilizer and be thankful that you have a place to live, food to eat, and that your children are more likely than not going to live to adulthood and enjoy their own lives.”

But sometimes it is in the items that seem inconsequential in a bigger context that you see the true insanity of people and business. And that is exactly what is happening in the airline industry. So, you’re tired of higher prices, less choice in routes, consolidation, and ever fewer services? It can get worse.

Zodiac Seats France, a division of French firm Zodiac Aerospace, has filed a patent application for a new form of airline seating. Instead of straight rows as usual, passengers would alternate facing front and back, which would allow a plane to fit far more people by packing them in like a can of sardines with the fish alternating direction.

Zodiac calls this the Economy Class Cabin Hexagon. You’d be facing people during the entire trip, only, unlike in some trains, you’d be at close quarters. Is someone traveling with a child? Expect full-on sonic attack and the occasional spray of whatever fluids are available.

According to the filing, “in certain cases, it may be desirable to increase cabin density while also creating seat units that increase the space available at the shoulder and arm area by creating an overlap in the shoulder areas of adjacent seats.” In other words: Feet to the right of you, feet to the left of you. And chances are the seats would be even narrower because what the airline giveth, the airline taketh away.

Food trays, to allow provision of meals and alcohol (the sales of which would probably spike), would be built into the seats. Perhaps there would be an extra charge for a rope ladder to you could lower yourself into your perch.

And I already thought I was glad to have stopped an extensive travel schedule. Zodiac warned on reduced profits last month in the face of seat production delays. Maybe it couldn’t get enough genetically-modified honeybees to build those honeycomb suckers fast enough.

This would seem like a joke or outlandish idea that you could easily dismiss if the airline industry hadn’t thoroughly shown its disdain for customers. Here are just some of the jolly surprises being rolled out by airline companies recently:

Airlines have made it clear. They don’t seem to care if passengers are miserable. If anything, that just drives people to pay more for seating with greater leg room or an upgrade to business class or first class. The food is worse than it used to be, if it’s available at all, flights are packed (understandably, because airlines do need to make money), the facilities almost always seem run down, and the best thing about taking a plane is getting off at the end of the flight — if you don’t get bumped because the airline deliberately overbooked.

The companies won’t change their behavior because people are largely stuck. So here’s an idea. Use video conferencing for business and save on the travel costs. If you must go, always take a train, bus, or car if at all feasible. Vacation closer to home. And send an email, or tell the airline via Twitter, so it hears what you’re doing and why. Know your rights and make sure the airline owns up to them, including compensation if you get bumped and unreasonably delayed because the company overbooked. So long as people put up with terrible treatment, the companies will be happy to treat all of us badly.

Published on: Jul 10, 2015