As I prepare to leave for India in a few hours I can barely contain my excitement at the prospect of flying economy.
After all who does not relish a verdant, open expanse of some 30 inches of seat pitch (legroom) and obscene luxury of being ensconced in a seat as wide as 17 inches or so? For me what is likely to compound the sheer bliss would be that I am taking a non-stop Air India flight from Chicago to New Delhi stretching about 15 hours straight.
On this august occasion, even as the United Nations begins its annual general assembly in New York today, I would like to republish a short post I wrote on March 6, 2011. That way I can preserve all my energies for the flight ahead. This is what I wrote then:
It is time for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (UNHCR) to declare economy class air travel as a serious human rights violation. Anyone who has suffered the indignity of spending any time in any economy class seat on any international flight would testify if the U.N. were to hold hearings on this issue.
These seats are unforgivably narrow. They seem to get narrower as the flight progresses. I often get the sense that the two arms on either side of the seat collapse into each other as part of a grand aviation industry conspiracy. The industry just does not like economy class passengers. Pretty soon it will offer only armrests without the seats in between in the economy class.
What makes economy class travel on long haul flights even more harrowing is the seat configuration of 3-4-3. If you end up in the middle—and purely statistically you would end up there several times—then there is absolutely no hope for you. You are better off dead than being caught in the middle seats on a 16-hour flight.
The UNHCR should summon all airline CEOs, put them on a 16-hour nonstop flight, seat them all in the economy class with 3-4-3 configuration and hold hearings for several days. They should be asked just one question for those 16 hours—“Are you comfortable?” I guarantee their answer will get progressively depressing every second of the duration of the flight. By the time the flight lands they would be ready to make all flights mandatory business class flights at the economy fare.
P.S.: I fly out of Ahmedabad tonight to return to Chicago by economy class. I happily admit to resenting the fact that I will never be able to afford business class travel in this lifetime. First class does not even exist in my niggardly universe.
P.P.S. (Added today): Business class travel continues to be out of reach. And first class is like some fabled place on the mountain top which exists only in whispers. I have a new name for my kind of travel—Flying under economy aka Phew!