Give the airlines credit: unlike the automakers for whom greenwash is the order of the day, they and in turn the environment i.e. all of us benefit when they find ways to cut energy use. The lighter the weight, the more the aircraft can carry per pound of thrust the less fuel is needed leading to lower emissions.
Let's face it: even if we developed high-speed rail networks everywhere, air travel is the only practical means to carry people and highly-valued cargo over medium to long distances and to remote locations.
One of the means airlines have been using to gain productivity is seat pitch. The more bodies on thinner, lighter furniture packed tighter together that they can squeeze into the maximum certifiable capacities of today' well-engineered aircraft the less BTUs-per-customer they must expend while achieving more per-passenger revenues.
Yet there are limits to this as anyone taller than 5'5" can testify. Today's seating arrangements make online work next to impossible in economy i.e. hoi-polloi class while making flying close to becoming unbearable.
(Replacing much-maligned but actually very nutritious and overall very good airline food with salt-and-fat-laden fare at most airports adds to the discomfort further because salt makes the joints ache)
Air travel though is about pushing the limits. An Italian company, Aviointeriors is promising to go beyond it when it comes to human endurance with its new 23-inch pitch (compared to typical 28-inch-31-inch pitch) "SkyRider" seat.
Not yet FAA-approved, the "SkyRider", is says Aviointeriors "an ultra-high density seat presently completely engineered and to be finally tested. The SkyRider has been designed and engineered to offer the possibility to even further reduce ticket prices while still maintaining sound profitability, which, even with a dual or three class seating arrangement, will allow maximum certified passenger capacity of the aircraft. With a much reduced seat pitch, the SkyRider preserves a comfortable position for the low fare passengers."
"Furthermore, in the SkyRider arrangement, a partial overlapping of the passengers seating between rows is allowed, thus further increasing the cabin density. The seat structure itself also provides space for personal baggage."
The seat row roughly resembles like those on amusement park rides without the over-the-shoulders harnesses, or the comfort. But don't give the airlines (or the FAA) any ideas. We've all been on flights that would merit such contraptions.
"The SkyRider is intended as a new basic class," says the firm. "The passenger's seating position is similar to that of a touring motor-scooter rider. This posture permits that the overall longitudinal space occupied by the seat."
If the Aviointeriors release had come out April 1 it would have been treated as a joke. Yet with domestic air travel--with the laudable exception of JetBlue--becoming a commodity where cheap-and-timing is what matters; if the FAA approves this cross between a seat and-straphanging don't be surprised if one carrier then another then another follow suit. Lowest common denominator. This is despite condemnation from reporters and users if the site Farecompare is any indication.
After all, the carriers know that if you have to fly, because your company tells you to or that you have to see your family or bury them you will have no choice, or so they think to endure the torture.
The only thing--barring Congress-driven mandates to the FAA--barring such a discomfort-inflicting device from being contemplated is for the individual business customers and for powerful consumers organizations like the AARP--to tell the airlines "don't even think about it or we'll switch/tell or advise our employees and members to switch to video/webconferencing, and Skype."
Given the airlines' better-but-still razor-thin profits, it doesn't take much of a shift in customers to change their ledger colors from black to red. For while the air travel experience has been deteriorating and prices climbing that for online virtual communications has been taking off and declining respectfully.
And one doesn't have to worry about strip-searches, what's in the other's person shoes, weather delays and lost bags, or tolerate the food on a Skype, web or videocall...the greenest "transportation" there is.