travel

AN EXPLAINER: Why we're made to feel like dirty cockroaches when flying economy.

There’s a reason long-haul economy flights conjure a deep hatred for the human race within you.

No, it’s not the lovely flight attendants.

In fact their job is to, wherever possible, make your bad situation ever-so-slightly better. (Because let’s be real, that’s what a 17-hour flight sitting upright in economy is – a bad situation).

Listen: Mia Freedman talks with Monique Bowley and Jessie Stephens about the complexities of flying and travelling on your period, on Mamamia Out Loud. (Post continues after audio…)

Rather, the onus for the sub-par experience you have as an economy passenger falls upon airlines themselves, and the very ethos they encourage.

If you get the feeling the airline doesn’t give two sh*ts about you in economy, you’ve hit the nail on the head. They really don’t.

As explained in a recent YouTube video with over one million views by Wendover Productions, airlines don’t make any real money out of their economy passengers.

“Economy class is not how airlines make money”, the video states. “The real money, at least for the traditional airlines, is in premium cabins.”

‘Premium cabins’ refers to those that aren’t economy. So, on a modern plane – first class, business class and premium economy.

The video uses the example of an average Boeing 777. If you’ve flown internationally before, you’ve probably been on one. In this hypothetical, a full plane of passengers fly a return-trip between London Heathrow and Washington Dulles airport in the United States.

The video, and screenshots below, show prices in American dollars, but we’ve converted them to Australian.

Economy Class.

Their 122 economy seats each cost AU$1142 for the return flight (prices above in USD). Image via YouTube.
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For each of the 122 seats in economy, tickets cost AU$1142 for the return trip.

That means the airline makes AU$139,356 from the economy section of the plane.

Premium Economy Class.

The 40 Premium Economy seats cost AU$3433 each for the return flight (prices above in USD). Image via YouTube.

For each of the 40 seats in premium economy (yellow in the image above), tickets cost AU$3433.

That means the airline makes AU$137,332 from the premium economy section of the plane.

Business Class.

The 48 Business Class seats cost AU$8766 each for the return flight (prices above in USD). Image via YouTube.

For each of the 48 seats in business class (red in the image above), tickets cost AU$8766.

That means the airline makes (a respectively whopping) AU$420,790 from the business class section of the plane.

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First Class.

The 14 First Class seats cost AU$11,364 each for the return flight (prices above in USD). Image via YouTube.

For each of the 14 seats in first class (green in the image above), tickets cost AU$11,364.

That means the airline makes AU$159,095 from the first class section of the plane.

As the video points out, "the 14 passengers at the front of the plane (First Class) make the airline more money than the 122 at the back of the plane".

When combined, the 102 people in the three premium cabins make the airline over AU$717,000.

The 122 in the Economy cabin make the airline approximately AU$138,000.

"45% of the passengers [Premium Economy, Business, and First Class] account for 84% of the airline's revenue."

"It only follows that because us Economy travellers make the airline less money... they spend less money on us." via iStock.
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So, regardless of the fact there are more passengers in Economy, they're bringing in a measly 16 per cent of the revenue.

And it only follows that because we economy travellers make the airline less money... they spend less money on us.

Think lower quality, bulk-bought food; less variety of entertainment; lower quality screens; poorer quality headsets.

In terms of capitalism, it makes sense that the long-haul economy flight experience is soul-crushing. As a company who strive to make a profit, why spend more money with the people that only bring you 16 per cent of your revenue?

We. Don't. Matter.

The Business Class section is the most profitable for airlines. via iStock.

"More and more airlines are taking out their first class to just put in more business class," says the video. "It just makes more money."

It continues, "If an airline could fill a plane full of business class passengers, they would. They've been trying. But pretty much no route has the demand to fill a plane full of business class."

Why do we feel like infected cockroaches when we fly economy?

Well probably because that's exactly how the airline sees us.

"Everyone in economy, in the end, is just there to fill the plane."

You can watch the full video, here.

Do you have any airplane horror stories? Let us know in the comments below...

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