Get rid of first class!

By Dennis Riches

Published October 17, 2001 7:37PM (EDT)

Read the story.

Pure hilarity! The boisterous, unruly masses up at the front of the plane thwarting terrorist hijackers while the older white males are pampered and feted by attractive young female flight attendants at the back. Perhaps Mr. Riches could roll back the perks of the upper classes in Tokyo society before rolling out his plans for airline safety in the U.S. Or perhaps we should abolish air travel completely in favor of "classless" steamship travel. Thanks for the funniest thing I've seen in Salon in months! I'd like to shout the author a drink sometime if he ever visits Earth.

-- Kevin Brady

Hooray! I heartily applaud this idea, but I wanted to point out that JetBlue has already put it in place. Their leather seats and free TVs are available to all who buy a seat on their flights. What a relief to have a democratic seating plan, here in this democratic country. That's just one of the reasons I'll fly JetBlue over any other airline. If more airlines catered to my egalitarian self, I'd fly them too.

-- Corrin Eckert

From a fellow Tokyoite who faces the trauma of long-distance travel once or twice a year, I think Riches' idea is a terrible one, for the same reason socialism is a pretty bad idea.

His main mistake is in believing what he considers "egalitarianism" would make things better for most, when in fact it would make things worse for all. The airlines are operating under normal principles of supply and demand, and although I am a sufferer among the "common folk," I can still see the benefits of that.

Why do we tolerate some folks getting more leg room? Because they pay for it -- dramatically more, more than their amenities justify. Thus, they subsidize the discount packages I usually use to fly.

I dream of flying up beyond the blue curtains, but it has never been worth the cost to me. But I'm also a person who prefers to shop for the clothes I like rather than having to pay for a standard-issue Mao suit.

Riches' piece is the first I've seen suggesting the terrorists would have been any less successful in coach. That's ludicrous on its face. The pre-Sept. 11 world knew nothing of suicidal hijackers, and passengers would have reacted the same on an uniclass plane.

As for Riches' other points -- such as equating racial discrimination with paying for different levels of service -- I've become upset with myself for even responding to his ridiculous article, so will let them speak for themselves.

-- Matt Twomey

Indeed, "it defies common sense that no one thinks of creating a profitable business plan based on maximizing the number of seats on the aircraft," but in this case, at least, common sense reigns supreme. Southwest Airlines has no first class, and even more egalitarian, seats are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis at the gate. All this and they are profitable, and have been since at least 1990 (the earliest I could find financial data online), and have never had a layoff, even in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11.

-- David Wood

I agree! And while we're at it, let's get rid of luxury hotels. A sleepless night on a lumpy mattress at a Comfort Inn would probably stop a couple of hijackers. Gourmet restaurants should be shut down as well, since we all know what a couple of Big Macs can do to a terrorist's GI tract. I'm surprised Comrade Riches didn't suggest that our nation's airlines buy some old Aeroflot jets ...

-- Matt Goebel

While Dennis Riches makes some good points about the benefits of first class air travel to potential terrorists, I must disagree with part of his reasoning: "People should not be allowed to pay more to get better treatment."

My wife and I traveled across Norway by train, and decided to pay a little extra for a sleeper compartment for an overnight train. Does this make us wealthy, comfort-seeking snobs? Should we feel bad that there were other people on the train not in private sleeper cabins?

When we eat out, we typically don't eat at McDonalds. We usually go to a nicer restaurant with metal forks and cloth napkins. And to celebrate a special event, we might go to an fancy restaurant. Are these things that we should eliminate?

While I agree that extreme excess can be very distasteful, and I also agree that different people will have different views of what "extreme excess" is. However, a little luxury simply is NOT a bad thing.

--Greg Vander Rhodes

Dennis Riches must be kidding. Getting rid of first class travel will help prevent hijackings? That's his idea for better airplane security?

I can't afford to fly first class, so I too fly in the back with the commoners. That doesn't mean that I object to those who can afford to fly first class. This is the United States, not the Soviet Union. Financial success offers a variety of perks not available to those less fortunate. That's how it works. Get over it.

For the author to try to use the recent tragedy to take out his frustrations on those who played the capitalist game well and reaped the rewards is offensive. Those people up front have more money than you, and they are using it to buy better service. That's life. Deal with it.

-- Jess Bunshaft

Dennis Riches claims to be a frequent flier. If he was truly a frequent flier, he would have experienced first class himself. Somehow he places first class as a place for the elite and super rich.

His piece offers nothing more than a veiled attempt at class warfare where there really isn't one.

For example, he calls the people in first class the ultra-rich. Undoubtedly, he has seen the retail prices of these tickets. However 90 percent of first class are simply regular business travelers who got a free upgrade because they travel so much. It's actually a reward for people AFTER they have flown thousands of miles in sardine class.

So he needs to sit back, and lose his small man/why not me syndrome, and propose real solutions to the airlines problems.

Sincerely, a young, new business traveler who just got his first class privileges.

-- Tim Lipsky

I'm assuming that Mr. Riches article suggesting that airlines get rid of first class is meant to be humorous, because he ignores a few simple facts:

1. If there were no first class, terrorists would still ask for seats at the front of the plane.

2. First class passengers get far more attention than coach; therefore they are more likely to be treated with more suspicion than coach passengers who are simply treated like cattle.

3. Most first class seats are occupied by frequent flyers who upgrade for free, with miles, or using inexpensive coupons, not wealthy people or highly paid executives paying full fare.

4. For those wealthy or ignorant enough to pay full fare for the seats (a one-way ticket from San Francisco to New York is in excess of $2,000). These passengers are extremely profitable for the airlines, and generate far more revenue than if the added space were sold to more coach passengers.

5. The idea that the youngest and most attractive flight attendants serve older, mostly male first class passengers is about 25 years out of date: First class flight attendants usually are those with the most seniority, and are often well into their late 50s and early 60s. The passengers more often than not are laptop-toting 30-something consultants, investment bankers and salespeople, and are far from being exclusively male.

6. Government and business leaders are more likely to fly coach (unless they can catch an upgrade) because of highly restrictive policies against flying first class.

-- Lee Shepard

Dennis Riches should be thankful for first class. Without it, he would be paying a lot more to ride in coach.

It costs the typical U.S. airline 13 cents to move a seat one mile, empty or full. This means to break even on a cross-country flight that's 75 percent full, they would have to charge a round trip fare of at least $900. The only way the airlines can afford to offer some people a fare half that big is to find other people willing to pay twice as much. Perhaps Mr. Riches doesn't mind sitting for six hours with his knees in his face, but people paying $2,000 or more for a ticket have come to expect more.

The really rich and powerful have abandoned scheduled flights altogether and move about the country via private jet. Getting rid of first class would accelerate that trend and make it even more expensive and uncomfortable for Mr. Riches and the rest of us.

-- Christopher Herot

It's actually not true that "no one thinks of creating a profitable business plan based on maximizing the number of seats on the aircraft." Those airlines that the business press refers to as "discount carriers," the largest and best known example of which is Southwest, do operate this way, do have no first class, and are the most consistently profitable and most rapidly growing airlines that exist. If the U.S. government had chosen not to bail out the traditional airlines after Sept. 11, it seems fairly likely that we would have had a number of bankruptcies followed by growth in this style of airline. Certainly, Southwest has suffered the least financial damage of the large carriers since Sept. 11. (This also appears to have happened in Europe, where traditional carriers have been much weakened and one-class discount airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair have weathered the storm much better.) Whether it is good or bad overall, the government bailout in the U.S. does appear to have slowed down the type of restructuring your writer is in favor of.

-- Michael Jennings

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------