Airline seating as symbol and metaphor of inequality

Review December 2, 2014 1:18 pm
Airline interiors are clearly interesting spaces to think about technology and politics.

Sociologist Elizabeth Popp Berman has a nice blog-post on orgtheory where she computes Gini indexes for the interior of different aircraft, based on the space they allocate to different classes of passengers (first, business, economy).

Speaking of transatlantic flights, she comments:

Unsurprisingly, though, these air-beds take up even more space than a nice comfy first class seat. So if we look again at how the space is distributed, we now have 21% of the people using about 40% of the plane, 27% using another 20%, and the final 52% using the last 40%. The Gini index has now increased, to 25.

Of course, I’m fully aware that a very small proportion of the Earth’s population can afford airline tickets in the first place, so we’re really seeing growing inequality between the 10%, the 1%, and the 0.1%. (I assume the 0.01% have jet shares?)

Nevertheless, it’s not often you see such a clear visual representation of our collective acceptance of the right of a small fraction of people to consume a very disproportionate percentage of resources. I wonder how much of the shift is actually driven by increased inequality, as opposed to improved capacity for price discrimination? [my emphasis]

Taking her point one step further, on the Crooked Timber blog, sociologist Kieran Healy asks: what would airplane interiors actually look like if they were spatially representative of US income inequality.  Turns out they would look something like this (and interestingly, the people who get the most squeezed are those that fly in business, rather than economy):

All of which is to say: you should go read both blog-posts.

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