a row of seats in an airplane

I’ll take my peanuts with a side of sarcasm, please…

We need to live in a world where each and every airline CEO is forced to live stream their entire experience from a densified economy seat on a flight of at least 2.5 hours. No priority boarding, no commercial breaks. Just once, but they need to. How’s that legroom doing? Do you enjoy the paint stripper, which doubles as wine? How about the non existent seat back entertainment you ripped out, fun to look at, right?

Earlier this year, my mind was well and truly blown. I’m a pessimist, naturally, and that leads me to be wary of many things, but one thing I never imagined could actually be the case, was that some airline CEO’s don’t actually sample their own seats. That’s like the head of McDonalds not trying a burger. This news stuck with me. How could someone confidently boast about their offerings, if they’ve never actually seen it, let alone sat in it. The answer: passenger concerns are somewhere around #10 on the list of airline CEO priorities.a woman serving a man in an airplane

Covering aviation is eye opening, so is travel in general. Ever wonder why your hotel or airline doesn’t particularly care about your complaint? It’s because you’re a one off guest. Hotels and airlines only bend for corporate travel programs which book 10,000 business class seats a year, and just about no one else. It’s not to say a hotel or airline doesn’t care at all about your stay, or your flight; but when they have 200 rooms and 50 are taken every night by one company, and you’ve never been – and probably won’t return, their concerns are minimal.

Speaking to airline CEO’s you do learn that their jobs are quite difficult. They’re bombarded, harassed and constantly chased for things. I do feel for them, but perhaps the many millions in annual compensation helps. A CEO won’t say it often, but their primary concerns are, in rough order: stock price, employee relations, fleet orders, cargo sales and then somewhere down the line, passengers. That’s fine, its the world. We live in a capitalist society, where airline CEO’s are legally bound to maximize share price. Seat back entertainment is seen as weight which can be removed from planes to maximize share price with lower fuel costs.  One might potentially argue that maximizing share price and maximizing passenger happiness are in direct conflict with each other, but that’s a different conversation for another day.

a plane flying in the skyThe talking point today is Doug Parker. Doug Parker is the CEO of American Airlines, and someone who’s been rumored internally and externally as entirely out of touch. Earlier this year it was reported that Doug, who was praising the airlines recent 737-MAX deployment, hadn’t actually sat in the industry lowest economy seating dimensions. He eventually did. Economy seats don’t really set Instagram on fire, so you see far fewer pictures, but I fly economy quite regularly. At 6’2’’ I do notice the game of inches. It’s been many years since the margins could be considered favorable, but they’ve always seemed semi acceptable. Every day now that seems less of the case.

Densifying short haul planes seems somewhat fair enough, just like taking food away. For two hours, if the price is right, I’ll sit on a bicycle seat. But as airlines seek to shift revenue per seat mile and squeeze extra rows into long haul cabins, the game is up. Airlines are deploying smaller, narrow body planes onto longer routes, in hopes of surgically opening up new markets, without all those seats to fill. As they do, they’re taking planes acceptable for an hour or two to distances much further.

We simply need to live in a world where airline CEO’s actually experience the things they harp. I’ve had my opinions changed by CEO’s over the years, and I’ve had them hardened as well. Anyone who’s flown 2,000 miles in my seat is someone that I’ll listen to. Someone who hasn’t… yeah.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation


  1. Agreed. If Airline executives have to fly in middle seats in economy regularly, economy seats would be comfortable for all. Because they don’t, we get torture chamber seats.

  2. Airlines should have travel policies which align with those of other companies. Typically something like 12 hours or overnight with a full day of work on arrival is business and imbetween PE. Perhaps slightly more generous at board level. No extra perks. This way they will see it through their customers’ eyes

  3. Airlines should require that executives fly economy. Preferably in the center seat. That would grant them an intimate knowledge of the same product as the vast majority of the customer base. If the seat is so amazing, surely they won’t mind flying those crammed in slimline seats for a five hour flight.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *