Discount Air Travel

“Budget air travelers beware,” writes Correspondent Paul Lewis, “a new instrument of torture has been devised especially for you. And it makes Torquemada look like your friend when he hangs you from chains on the prison wall.

“The torment is called the ‘Sky Rider.’ It is supposed to make you think you are riding a horse through the skies. Instead of being squashed into one of those miserable little 28-inch seats airlines currently offer coach class passengers, you will be asked to stand from takeoff to landing, with just a little ledge to rest your bottom on and space for a tray in front.

“When it is buckle-up time, you fasten yourself to a high seat back behind you and stand like a prisoner waiting to be shot. Only 19 inches separates you from the next row of victims in front. Of course, such standing-room-only fares will be very cheap.

“No airliner has actually ordered the Sky Rider seats yet, and they still have to be approved by safety regulators. But Avioninteriors, the Italian firm that designed it, says it could be used on flights of up to two or even four hours flying time and would effectively create a completely new class of passengers, prepared to accept great discomfort for very low fares.

The company says a Boeing 737 could be configured to take 16 business class seats, 66 standard coach seats, and 98 Sky Riders crammed into the very back of the plane. It is currently marketing the new seat aggressively at aviation trade fairs around the world. And a number of cut-price airlines have been showing interest. (A normal Boeing 737 has 118 tourist class seats so there would be 46 more passengers with the new configuration.)

“Chief among these is Ryanair, which flies out of Dublin and London to holiday resorts around the Mediterranean. Chief Executive Michael O’Leary, who is one of the most aggressive cost cutters in the no-frill airline business, says he would like to install up to 10 rows of ‘standing area’ on some of his flights.

“He also said last summer that he thinks his planes do not need more than a single toilet and that passengers should pay 1 British pound to use it. Ryanair and its main European rivals, Easyjet and Monarch, already charge for everything from tap water to newspapers, sandwiches, and drinks. They even charge passengers a special fee to board the plane first so they can grab the best seats.

“In the United States, Spirit Airlines, another aggressive price cutter, is also believed to be interested in offering Sky Rider seats.

“There will be no cinema screens for standing-room-only passengers, nor earphones, nor much hope of reading a book or a magazine in comfort. Presumably these passengers will be allowed only limited baggage to keep the plane from being overweight…”

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