THE FABULOUS PERKS OF FLYING CATTLE CLASS
BY Angelo Fernando
I bet that at some point you’ve flown ‘cattle class’ – that distinguished seating area into which most of us are herded. Some of us have a few scars to prove it… like the unlucky Asian doctor on an airline that’s been trying to convince us of its hospitality with its ‘Friendly Skies’ slogan.
Having boarded a United Airlines flight in April, he was ‘removed’ from his ‘friendly’ seat, and dragged through the ‘friendly’ carpeted aisle while law enforcement banged parts of his face against the ‘friendly’ armrests.
Apparently that’s what you get for not reading the fine print aka United’s 37,651-word ‘contract of carriage.’ I downloaded it and dozed off while reading Rule #1 (the 80-page document contains about 4,000 words).
What followed was a serious image issue with people declaring war using alternative tag lines with the hashtag #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos.
Here are a couple they came up with: “Normal flights have cabin crew, we have bouncers” and “Board as a doctor, leave as a patient.” The poison darts in the form of parodies of United’s TV commercials by Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Kimmel were equally devastating.
So to alleviate this airline image crisis and reduce the passenger pain threshold, I suggest that airlines stop throwing money into expensive PR and begin pandering to two powerful forces that sway humans – egotism and fear.
EGOTISM FIRST Let’s say a flight leaving John F. Kennedy International Airport has to ‘involuntarily bump’ two passengers.
Before picking the victims, the airline could hire Oprah Winfrey to show up, walk up to the check-in counter and make an announcement inviting two passengers to have dinner with her at a nearby upscale restaurant.
She could also offer to play a round of golf with them the next morning as they wait for a limo to the airport.
If Oprah isn’t available, I highly recommend Ivanka Trump. What better way to diffuse a hashtag attack than a series of vain Instagram posts by passengers sporting Ivanka’s line of beachwear?
CHOOSING FEAR The airline must ensure that a few passengers in the waiting area accidentally ‘overhear’ the real reason the flight is being delayed – i.e. that inspectors had spot-checked the oxygen masks and found that five failed to discharge.
When questioned, the airline could make it known that passengers in those assigned seats would be free to fly at their own risk after signing a waiver that’s also covered under paragraph 32 of the aforementioned contract.
Or they could take a later flight…
Cattle-class stories have taken such a bad turn in the US that both the Senate and House of Representatives attempted to pass legislation to end the practice of ‘involuntarily bumping.’ It was artfully called the ‘People not Cargo Bill.’
‘Of course!’ replied some airlines, singing off the same hymn sheet.
‘People are not cargo! They are seat numbers. We disagree,’ said other airlines, explaining that ‘they are profit centres – squishy things you could fit into a small space and feed peanuts to every once in a while.’ (Full disclosure: I didn’t interview any airlines for this piece since I plan to fly soon and doing so would be as sensible as interviewing Vladimir Putin about cyberattacks.)
At the time of writing (and I’m not making this up), American Airlines announced that the space between seats will be reduced by up to two inches in some areas of its new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. A suggested tag line: ‘Get there in one piece, just like your cargo.’
A few years ago, when Delta, American and United realised there is no more space into which they can squeeze us, they rolled out a ‘Basic Economy’ seating category. As it implied, there would be fewer benefits.
How long will it be before there’s a ‘Bare Bones Economy’ class where you get to sit in the lavatory? They will serve you a ‘bare bones’ in-flight meal of leftovers from First Class, slipped under the lavatory door. No armrests… but hey, there’s unlimited toothpaste!
Don’t laugh. In 2009, a CNN story revealed that All Nippon Airways (ANA) asked its passengers to use the bathrooms before the flight took off. The idea was that ‘if 50 percent of passengers relieved themselves before boarding, it would reduce carbon dioxide by 4.2 tons a month.’
Not too long after the United fiasco, Delta Airlines kicked out a passenger because he used the bathroom to relieve himself while the flight was waiting in line to take off. Suggested tag line: “If you gotta go, you gotta go elsewhere.”
So whatever happened to the tag line on which we were sold? What became of the brand promise of ‘Fly the Friendly Skies’ that implied a country club experience at 30,000 feet, sipping complimentary cocktails with little coloured umbrellas?
It’s buried somewhere in Rule #28 of the contract. But most of us don’t read pig Latin.