Standing room only up in the air

AT last, you can do it as you did in a bus or a train, and in a theatre when only SRO (“standing room only”) is available. Well, almost. Ryanair is offering vertical seating if chief executive Michael O’Leary can have his way.

Mr O’Leary’s name has become synonymous with controversy. It was he who suggested charging a fee for use of the aircraft loo. After all, in his opinion, “air transport is just a glorified bus operation.”

Ryanair would install “vertical seats” in the rear of its aircraft, and has plans to commence safety testing next year. The seats will be tilted upright for passengers to lean against, complete with seatbelts and a small cushion to support the lower back. Sounds like a good idea for people with back problems. The main attraction of course is the fare, which, according to Mr O’Leary, would be as low as US$7 to US$14 for an hour flight.

Many people think Mr O’Leary’s idea would not fly because of a safety issue. What is discomfiting is how industry leaders themselves – who preach innovation – should quickly dismiss his “out-of-the-box” thinking as a load of hogwash. Do we even allow ourselves a chance to consider how an issue like safety can be tackled? (Ryanair did say the seats would be equipped with seatbelts.) Let us be reminded how once it was unthinkable that something as heavy as a flying machine could lift off and stay in the air.

There may well be other reasons why Mr O’Leary’s proposal might not take off. If it has to do with market preferences, then it is up to Ryanair to take the gamble.

Ryanair’s counterpart in Asia – Tiger Airways – has said it would also consider vertical seating. Its director Steve Burns said: “Everything we do is about offering the lowest possible fare… allowing our customers to choose what, if any, extras they wish to pay for.”

Indeed, the choice is the customer’s. Let him or her decide.

However, rival Jetstar might be speaking too soon when it insisted it would never contemplate vertical seating or charging passengers for use of the aircraft loo.


About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

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