If only I (wasn’t) on a plane

In aviation circles, Economy Class in an airplane is also called the favela or, also heard, the slum. Airlines’ communications departments are not happy with such names, but the question is how things are still there compared to a few decades ago.

It’s December 1982. Together with my then still living husband, I was in Economy Class in a then still flying DC-10 of the then still existing Swissair DC-10, on my way to Cairo International Airport. After the usual round of coffee and tea, one of the stewardesses walked around with menus, yes, you read that right. The starter was: goose liver pate. As a main course: Stroganoff steak or veal escalopes with mushrooms, accompanied by spätzle with butter or fried potatoes and green beans and carrot or broccoli with grilled tomato. The first dessert was cheese. As a second dessert chocolate mousse with meringue. All this was served on porcelain plates. The cutlery that we could enjoy this menu with was made of silver. Yes, back then it was also a great place to stay aboard a jet for passengers who had booked Economy Class.

From 89 to 79

Admittedly, it was not until 1983 that Swissair said goodbye to flying in one class with the introduction of Business Class. So we were just lucky. But it was also lucky with the chairs we sat on. Nice and wide and wonderfully thick. Of the 47 centimeters from then, only 43 centimeters remain. The backrests have undergone a significant thinning treatment. It is allowed as long as someone does not fall through the seat in an accident. The average legroom has also dropped, from no less than 89 to 79 centimeters. And all the while people are only increasing in length and breadth.

trang chair

It’s October 2016 where I’m on my way to Schiphol with a good friend in a Boeing 747-400 Combi. Due to its length, we had booked for (soon renewed) Economy Comfort. On the three side-by-side seats that are as narrow and thin as Economy Class, I was virtue in the middle, flanked on either side by two large, sturdy men. The jumbo was barely relieved as the passenger right in front of me let the backrest of her seat fold back to the farthest position. It’s no less than twice as far as Economy Class, something that KLM – I saw later – promotes. There I sat, on the cramped chair, wedged in between two men and with the back of a teenage girl reclining right in front of my nose. All I could do was tilt my chair. But I’m not a gymnast. Although the cabin crew was aware of my situation, they were unable to help me with another seat: the plane was fully booked. I had no choice but to seek refuge on the stairs, which is a 747 empire. And then I sat on that staircase for ten hours. For me the worst flight ever and that for 90 euros extra!

Bulk seats including baby

Then order tickets on Economy Class again as usual. The back rows in a widebody where the seating arrangement is 2-4-2 instead of 3-4-3 is my preference and of course not in the middle row. People with long legs usually prefer the so-called bulk headquarters, the seats located directly behind a partition. But with the large appliances, cribs are often attached to that wall. There is a good chance that you are sitting next to people with a baby who will bother you during the flight. There is a reason why little ones cry a lot in an airplane: the Eustachian tube, which regulates the air pressure on both sides of the eardrum, is even more horizontal in them than in adults. Unfortunately, such an Ukkepuk can not be explained that it helps to swallow. In the past, when the airplane seats still had a width of 47 centimeters, it often happened that the cabin crew put a crying baby to rest with a bottle of lukewarm milk with a shot of hard liquor in it. But that is no longer allowed. Whether such a child is worse off with such a ‘milkshake’ than by roaring his lungs out of his little body for hours? It is certainly calmer for all parties.

Flightlog and smoke almonds

There is still more that is no longer happening. At various airlines, including Transavia, is one flight log around with information from the cockpit. The purser filled in things like place of departure and arrival, flight date, type of flight, number of seats and different names. One of the pilots did the same with take-off weight, take-off speed, distance, flight duration, altitude, flight speed, weather en route, outdoor air temperature, landing weight, landing speed and both the Dutch and local arrival times. The passengers were supposed to pass on the A4 form with a photo of the cockpit on one side and a map on which the flight route could be drawn on the other. Practice showed the opposite. Now anyone can follow such data on one screen, which is nice.

And then they smoked almonds. On board KLM for many years. The blue company made the pacifier known worldwide. Men ak, datid.

Nothing for six and a half hours

Even on the shortest flights, KLM offers passengers a free drink and snack. On intercontinental flights, a hot meal and several drinks are served free of charge on the plane. There is no need to suffer from hunger or thirst because a request for an extra drink or snack is answered positively. A la carte meals are also available at an additional cost, although these must be ordered well in advance of the flight. You experience this differently with various other companies. Air France managed to offer nothing, no drink, no snack, nothing for six and a half hours on an eight hour and 32 minute flight. The breakfast, which was handed out an hour before landing, fell like a cake, even though one longs for a different meal at 1 p.m. I will not dwell on the tea that was poured from jugs that had previously been used for coffee. During a Delta-operated flight, which usually lasts four hours and forty minutes, we were only offered a drink with a biscuit. It was also a memorable flight.

dark tube

The 757s that were to perform the flight suddenly appeared to have been replaced by a 767. Our window seats also turned out to have been replaced with seats in the middle row. It was busy on board, completely full. People in window places immediately closed the window screens. And they remained closed: during takeoff, during flight and also when landing was commenced. The interior lighting of the aircraft was damaged in our cabin area. It gave the feeling of being in an MRI. The good thing about such a dark experience is, of course, that you can focus extra on the power of the aircraft when it goes to the wide sky. And if you do not get an impression from the outside, it also creates excellent conditions for looking inwards and coming to yourself. Yes, we love to fly and it can be seen! Well, forget it† It was of course a disappointment, apart from the fact that it is part of the safety procedure on board an aircraft, that all window screens must be up, especially during take-off and landing.

© Maarten Visser from Capelle aan den IJssel, The Netherlands, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Halfway through the flight, the cabin crew took very hasty actions. Several stewardesses ran back and forth through the dark pipe. A stewardess is sitting next to me, a so-called deadhead, had to leave his place. So I got another company right next to me. The man said the passenger next to him suddenly fell heavily towards him, giving the impression of dying. Meanwhile, the cabin crew called out to see if there could be a doctor on board the plane. That turned out to be the case. The announcement quickly followed from the cockpit that a stopover was being made due to one medical emergency† We had already passed Oklahoma City, but we returned to the airport at that location. The plane quickly lost altitude, the landing was perfect. The door opened, the firefighters moved into 767. In the dark we awaited the further events, certainly not jealous of the now revived man, equipped with all sorts of bells and whistles carried on board by five men. Meanwhile, our 767 was refueled. An hour and ten minutes later we could take off again, on to our destination. Another nice landing, albeit very gradual. Nothing but praise for it.

Humiliation upon humiliation

Pieter Derks ridiculed Ryanair in one of his conferences. “Last year I was on transport with Ryanair, let me put it this way,” he began with his finding. ‘What Ryanair is is humiliation, on humiliation, on humiliation, on humiliation. You will notice in every fiber of your being how little you have paid. ‘ And that’s the crux of the growing misery of Economy Class: With the advent of low-cost airlines, the frills on traditional airlines’ planes also fell more and more in order to remain competitive. Where to go for money.

Can it cost anything?

Tommy Wieringa, columnist for some time at NRC, called life on Earth a great process of combustion. Guess where he found the inspiration for his column on the climate crisis. He was at Schiphol. At Gate H. That’s where the prize fighters leave. Wieringa associated the H with Hel. Considering the location, he complained about the petroleum fumes and then boarded a Ryanair plane very cheaply. But if you want less flight, then should not you at least, at least, be willing to pay a little more for a fare?

A little more frills during a flight on Economy Class and Economy Royal, a little more heart for the climate: can it cost anything?

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