Can there really be any further insult offered to hard-working, middle-class people by the corporate and banking elites? Apparently there is, according to today’s New York Times, which seizes on the transportation sector to highlight yet another chasm yawning yet ever further between the ordinary and the privileged. Reports the Times:
The gap between first class and coach has never been so wide.
Carriers on international flights are offering private suites for first-class passengers, three-star meals and personal service once found only on corporate jets. They provide massages before takeoff, whisk passengers through special customs lanes and drive them in a private limousine right to the plane. Some have bars. One airline has installed showers onboard.
Great gods! Massages? Showers? What next? Airborne bordellos? Well, maybe:
“Emirates, based in Dubai, came up with personal suites for first-class passengers in 2003,” reports the Times. That’s a personal suite, there on the left. It runs about $10,500 on the Dubai-New York leg.
Imagine being stuffed in the back of an Airbus 380 for fifteen hours with a seat that reclines two inches, stuck between two well-feed fellow members of hoi polloi, knowing that a about a hundred feet away, some newly-minted Goldman managing director is stretched out on sheets of real Egyptian linen sipping Cristal while nibbling Caviar. Then imagine that “Caviar” is his pet name for a girl from St. Petersburg he met last week at the Emerging Markets conference in Prague. Makes you feel a little…small, doesn’t it?
Well, that’s just not right. We can take the stretch limos, the $500 a head restaurants, the mansions, and all the rest — because we can hide from all that. But this? They’re really rubbing our noses in it now. We get on and turn right, they turn left, and for the whole trip we have to smell the heady aroma of roast filet and hear the popping of champagne corks — too much! Outlaw first class!
Whoops. One problem: on that same Dubai – JFK flight, first class and business class seats make up only 15% of the passengers — but they pay 43% of the total airfare. A first class passenger pays about twenty times more than a coach passenger — and although that suite looks pretty comfy, it’s clearly not taking up as much room as twenty coach seats. (Okay, maybe ten, but not twenty.)
So while the mighty may be a lot more comfortable, they are heavily subsidizing the fares paid by the coach passengers. Some back-of the envelope math suggests that if the entire plane were converted to coach seats, the coach fare would have to rise at least 50% in order to generate the same revenue.
That may be small comfort when the dull ache in the small of your back develops into a crippling series of spasms just as the snoring gentleman next to you flails his arm across your chest shouting “Fore right!” But until your rich great aunt leaves you a beefstake mine, or Goldman promotes you to partner, it may be the best you can do.
Oh, by the way — Air France offers its passengers a first class lounge with a restaurant operated by Alain Ducasse. Truffled lobster roundels in Champagne cream sauce. Yum.