BAD NEWS IS coming for economy class airline passengers. You think the seats are small now? They're going to shrink further. Soon, economy class seats will have room for only one buttock instead of the conventional two. Decide now which buttock you are going to favor. Or practice taking turns, right, left, right, left, five minutes each.
Current trends suggest there will soon be three classes of airline seat: first, business, and electron microscope.
This is not because airlines are changing seat sizes. It is because humanity is changing passenger sizes. Expanding travelers are flowing right over the seats next to them. On several occasions I have found myself sitting on the armrest or the tray table.
More than a thousand complaints have been filed in the past 12 months by crushed travelers squeezed into half an economy seat or less.
On one flight, I sat next to a guy who was stuck fast between his armrests as I got off. He is probably still there today. (That was two weeks ago, so he may be a bit slimmer now.)
Sitting next to me on the flight, or more accurately, sitting on me during the flight, the guy wanted sympathy: he told me that life was getting harder for big passengers like himself.
US airlines (Southwest, Delta, Northwest and United) force him to pay for two seats. European airlines, such as Ryanair, are introducing a "fat tax" on large travelers. "This is just the beginning," he fumed. "The latest proposals are to change the entire ticket pricing system so that all passengers are charged by weight. This is outrageous."
Whether it is outrageous or not, it's not going to happen. Western folk are heavier than Asians. Men are heavier than women. Rich folk are heavier than poor folk.
Think about it. Proposal lands on desk. "Penalize passengers who are wealthy, white and male," it says. "Give an advantage to those who are poor, Asian and female," it adds.
How will international policy makers, who are nearly all (you guessed it) wealthy, white and male, respond? "I don't think so," they'll say, filing the proposals in the floor-standing circular filing cabinet with the used coffee cups, soiled napkins, discarded interns, etc.
A few days ago, researchers released an intriguing report saying that while millions of people have grown fat and millions have gone on diets, the two groups hardly overlap at all. That's because they are different sexes.
The average man is overweight but remains blissfully unaware of it, while the average woman is not overweight but is on a diet, according to a multi-country study at the National Institute of Demographic Studies in France.
This doesn't surprise me at all. My male friends insist their massive pot-bellies are pure muscle (from all the digesting, you see). And every woman I know is on a diet, including the ones who are so thin they can pass through closed doors.
In the meantime, there's only one way to ensure you get a bit of space to yourself in the economy class cabin. Take along a sombrero, an "I survived Mexico" t-shirt and a fake cough. And watch the rows of seats open up like magic.