Flying without friction
In a reminder of the friction we experience while flying, Expedia recently released the results of its annual Airplane Etiquette Study. Surveyed passengers in the study rated the most problematic type of neighboring passenger as the “Rear Seat Kicker,” with 59% of the votes, followed by the “Inattentive Parent,” the “Aromatic Passenger,” and the “Audio Insensitive.” I’m assuming that these monikers are self-explanatory to anyone who’s flown at least a few times.
Thankfully, such passengers are hardly the norm, but of course, one never knows when one might find oneself seated in front of a Rear Seat Kicker, or next to the offspring of an Inattentive Parent. Which makes seat selection something of a lottery—one can choose a seat next to a window or an aisle, assuming one is available, but not a seat next to a quiet book reader.
On the other side of the airline-customer aisle, The Economist reported on American Airlines’ decision to forego entertainment screens on the seatbacks in its new planes. Boeing 737s entering service before the end of the year will no longer offer seat back entertainment, but rather enhanced Wi-Fi that passengers can purchase in order to stream films for free from the airline’s library. Which could be a boon for the estimated 90% of passengers who have such devices onboard, while the rest will have to hope for rental tablets provided by the airline.
It’s a cost-saving measure for the airline, given that in-flight entertainment systems cost around $3 million per plane, and add weight, which increases fuel costs. But, according to The Economist, it may also help the carrier “get ahead of the times.” That’s because the fast pace of digital change means that seatback screens become outmoded very quickly. Accordingly, offloading the burden of keeping pace with technology onto passengers, puts them in the figurative driver’s seat, while sparing the airline the cost of upgrading dimly-lit, low-resolution screens.
It seems like a win-win for all concerned, with the airline cutting down on the friction built into the mechanics of flying (lower fuel costs, presumably passed on as savings to passengers), while passengers can enjoy a better viewing experience on their favourite devices.
Even so, it begs the question of why flying seems to so full of friction to be begin with, and how it might be otherwise. Which might be a good place to turn off our smartphones, fasten our seat belts, and imagine what, exactly, frictionless air travel might actually look like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPurzKVTlU4