Coach Class

A plug for Pico Iyer’s wonderful essay on airfare class divisions:

How much would you pay to enjoy six hours away from your fellow humans, in a chair that reclines? $1,500 an hour – or even more? And if someone invited you to spend $9,000 to pass a long afternoon in a fairly cramped lounge, munching peanuts and reading airline magazines, would you accept? How desperate are you to have access to 15 movies you never would pay to see in a theater, instead of 11?

These are such obvious and wise questions that I wonder why I’ve never seen them posed before.

The rest of Iyer’s essay is equally insightful, including an apt observation that the coach seats on many Asian airlines often have more amenities than the business class seats on US airlines (are you listening, Northwest Airlines?). But, in the end, his basic point is a simple and economic one:

The individual details are less important, though, than the economic assumptions behind the scam. Better seats should cost maybe 20 percent more, or (for movie stars) 50 percent more. But 1,900 percent?

You don’t have to be a philanthropist to realize that by enduring slightly more human company for six hours, you could build nine homes in Burundi, each big enough to house 10 people with the money left over. And if you want to keep the savings, with $9,000 you could take five weeklong, all-inclusive tours to Southeast Asia, for the price of just an afternoon’s greater comfort en route to London.