While onboard entertainment in the form of fist fights and drag-offs has dominated airline news of late, a more significant sign of the future of commercial aviation came in the form of an announcement from American Airlines in May.
There is a new workhorse version of the Boeing 737 Max jet, and American has an order on the books for 100 of them. It is expected that 40 of the planes will be flying the American flag before the end of 2019.
But some of the jets will become operational later this year, so American thought it would announce a major teaser to get customers excited about the pending arrival of this airline product.
The announcement, as reported by CNN, was that American will be delighting its customers with further-reduced legroom
By doing so, American explained, it will be able to add 10 additional seats to this aircraft, which will help to maintain competitive pricing.
This, of course, makes perfect sense, since we can all observe that the average citizen in this country is getting slimmer, as any visit to a Super Walmart will illustrate.
Just how will American achieve these legroom reductions? The real pain-inducing seating was expected to occur in three rows of economy where legroom was reduced from 31 inches to 29 inches. Ouch! The remaining seats in economy will be reduced from 31 inches to 30.
Airline seat metrics are such that the loss of 1 inch can cause some major discomfort for those with long legs or large torsos. I am an American Gold member, and I support the airline whenever I can. I like American, which is why I want to give its marketing folks some free consulting advice regarding how this news should have been broken to the flying public.
It turns out that the tightest seating in the air is offered on low-cost carriers Spirit and Frontier. They are offering their economy flyers 28 inches of legroom, and there are no onboard chiropractic services. So the customers in those dreaded three rows on American would still have an inch on the low-cost guys.
My advice would be a new American ad campaign that screams, "Our seating is not quite as lousy as Spirit's." I think this would go over well with consumers and frequent American flyers.
With the reduced legroom, you might be wondering how much less these seats will cost. The answer is that they will likely be priced as regular economy seats.
Currently, it is the slightly odd duck U.S. airlines that offer the most comfortable seating. JetBlue gives its guests 34 inches of pitch, and Virgin America offers 32. Don't these two airlines come in with the highest passenger satisfaction scores in most industry surveys? It couldn't have anything to do with comfort, could it?
I also salute American for what we will call design consistency. It has been reported that the bathrooms aboard the new jets will also be somewhat smaller than they are on current 737 models. That's a good thing, as I receive numerous complaints at my travel consultancy that American's aircraft restrooms are far too large.
But this story has a rather happy ending. One month after the announcement that prompted my comments above, American issued a press release explaining that it had received "a lot of feedback" about its plan to reduce seat pitch on the new aircraft. It said that it is rescinding the plan
and that all of its new 737 Max aircraft will provide 30 inches of pitch in the economy section.
This strikes me as significant. American listened to its customers and, I suspect, to some of its own marketing people.
And how did it manage this reversal? Simply by eliminating one row of economy-plus seats and replacing them with standard economy seating. We trust that Wall Street will not punish American for actually listening to what its customers were saying.
And we hope that JetBlue keeps reminding flyers that they provide 34 inches of pitch in their standard economy seating.
A good hobby for our president?
Over the years, I've always tried to share my biases with you in such a way that they are clearly identified. So let me just say that I love the Netherlands. I feel that calling it a country is not fitting enough. The place has a different feel to it, a different scale than other countries. More than half of the residents of Amsterdam go to work on bicycles, past tiny canals and atmospheric, brown coffee shops.
In fact, the Netherlands has the world's only solar-powered bike lane, and it has a town, Houten, where the residents decided to completely ban automobiles so the locals could ride bikes, stopping to chat with one another from time to time. For that reason, one could reasonably argue that Houten has become the world's safest destination.
However, the Netherlands has one problem: There are too many prisons and not enough prisoners. In fact, it has had to close 19 prisons since 2009.
Also, the Netherlands is so into electric cars that by 2025, gas and diesel cars will no longer be sold in the country. The Netherlands has already eliminated taxes on electric cars and engines considered environmentally friendly. This has reduced the price of these cars by about $17,000.
As the website Bright Side points out, the Netherlands is likely the only country in the world where there are no abandoned dogs or cats. None at all. That is because the government has a Bill of Rights for animals and feels obligated to protect them.
Oh, there is one other thing I should probably add. The Netherlands also has a king who very well might have flown your clients on one of the KLM flights he has piloted over the last 21 years.
You may be aware that KLM has always been called "Royal Dutch Airlines." Well, it turns out that the term actually has meaning.
King Willem-Alexander, the reigning monarch, was being interviewed in de Telegraaf when he was asked about his "hobby." It turns out that the king, who, of course, has the requisite credentials, has been flying short Cityhopper routes for KLM for more than two decades.
In the interview, as the New York Times reported, the king has been flying at least twice a month. King Willem-Alexander pointed out that flying helped him decompress and enabled him to fully concentrate on his hobby while not thinking about matters of state. He told reporters that you can't take your problems from the ground into the air.
King Willem-Alexander, the Netherlands' first king in 123 years, was seldom recognized in the cockpit. He normally served as a co-pilot on short routes, and also flew for Martinair. While most Dutch citizens know of their king's interest in flying, few knew that he was in a fairly regular rotation at KLM. He makes cockpit announcements but never identifies himself.
The backstory is that the king flew to Australia last year and he had the temerity to fly on Emirates. This caused a little media upset, so he seemed to feel that it was about time to reveal his support and "employment" by his country's national carrier.
All of this leads to my conclusion that it would be both relaxing and restorative for our own head of state to take up flying. I am going to launch a campaign to that effect. After all, there already had been a Trump Airlines. But I think, like the king of the Netherlands, it might fill us all with pride if Donald Trump took over the controls a few times each month of one of our national carriers. Tickets, anyone?