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Peace in the skies – legal eagles find the answer

May 21, 2017

A couple of American law professors have been grappling with one of the most pressing problems of the modern age: how to stop people getting into fights over reclining seats on aircraft. According to the London Times, they claim that the most equitable answer is for people who wish to push their seats back into the precious space occupied by passengers in the row behind to offer them drinks or snacks.

I think they’re on to something, even if it would take some serious cultural reorientation for one passenger actually to speak to another on a flight unless it’s to complain about their behaviour or, worse still, to threaten to kill them.

Another angle the professors came up with was for the passengers to offer each other money for waiving the right to recline. This, apparently, would not be so effective, because the parties would be unlikely to agree on the financial value of not being squashed to death. I suspect that a 300-pound gorilla would probably demand an extremely high price for losing their precious few inches.

But I can imagine how passengers could profit mightily if they offered to refrain from a wider range of legal but antisocial behaviour.

For example, how much would you pay if the mother of a screaming child offered to silence the infant? She could probably collect from everyone within a ten-metre radius of the wailing monster. All she would have to do would be to forget to feed it for the first half hour, and bingo! The money starts rolling in.

Other commercial opportunities might include “ten bucks or I take off my shoes”. There could also be a flatulence levy, to be exacted by anyone brave enough to admit that they have a problem best relieved by a trip to the toilet rather than in the comfort of their seat.

Threatening to introduce exotic, rather than noxious, odours into the cabin is another possibility, especially if the flight is coming from countries where people like to bring their own food on board. A curry waiver perhaps?

And then there’s the durian, probably the foulest-smelling fruit on the planet. Airlines in south-east Asia ban passengers from bringing it on their aircraft. But as far as I’m aware, operators outside the region don’t even know what a durian is, so the extortion value might be extremely high, say, on an Air Canada flight. Best not to unleash a durian salad on a US aircraft, though. You might end up diverting the plane and being shot by airport security staff wearing gas masks.

But if you’re flying across America, you might well earn a few bucks if, after uttering a few sentences including words like jihad and Raqqa, you agree only to speak English rather than your native tongue, because your animated Arabic conversation with your mother-in-law makes your fellow passengers uncomfortable. That would give you plenty of latitude, since to the average American ear a good fifty percent of all world languages sound like Arabic. Again though, anyone trying this one should be aware that they run the risk of being terminated with extreme prejudice by an over-anxious sky marshal.

You might think that some of these scenarios are beyond ridiculous, and you’d be right – they’re the product of my warped imagination. But a recent developments in aviation opens the door for some level of passenger interaction along these lines.

American Airlines are removing video screens from their new Boeing 737 short-haul aircraft. Instead they will be providing wi-fi that will make flight entertainment available through streaming to the 90% of passengers they say have smart phones or tablets in the cabin. It’s highly likely that other airlines will end up doing the same, at least in economy. It’s not impossible that some bright spark will develop an application that will enable passengers on a flight to talk to each other and to every other passenger – a kind of closed-circuit Twitter.

You could therefore envisage on-line auctions for seat swaps, with transactions going through PayPal. So if you’re a seven-foot basketball player stuck in an ordinary seat, you might be able to post an offer for an exit seat occupied by someone who has no need for the extra space. It would also be useful for anyone separated from friends and family. No need for hard-pressed cabin crew to negotiate on your behalf. Just cut out the intermediary.

There are potential drawbacks of course, such as messages announcing “I have a bomb” or “we’re all gonna die”, that induce mass panic. But passengers can do that perfectly well without wi-fi. And any system that’s acceptable to the airline would be able to link the message to a seat number, thus bringing hell and damnation upon the perpetrator.

If our law professors are correct, there’s a price for everything. Provided the airlines themselves – impoverished by having to offer travellers large sums of money not to travel on their flights – don’t have to open their coffers, I should have thought that they would be delighted to see their passengers doing deals among themselves to make their journeys in flying sardine cans more tolerable.

This in turn, could open up new opportunities for the world’s oldest profession. Standard contracts between passengers, lawsuits for breach of contract – the possibilities are endless. Which is probably why the legal eagles came up with the research in the first place. Perish the thought!

From → Social, Travel, USA

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