This is what the three-class seating on an Airbus A330-300 would look like if it were reconfigured to represent the distribution of income in the United States:
In Air Gini’s three-class layout, some things look familiar and some things are a bit different. Economy Class makes up just under eighty percent of the passengers. Passengers seated there correspond to everyone who makes less than about $97,000 a year. Their share of total income in the US is just below fifty percent, and thus so is their share of the seating space. On the regular airline it was about fifty eight percent, so for these working stiffs the new arrangement is even more cramped than on our ordinary international flight. Economy Class passengers on Air Gini should expect less overhead bin space and more passive-aggressive interactions with the guy in front of them who insists on reclining his seat.
Up with the managers, meanwhile, things have become more compressed, too. Business Class travelers are just over eighteen percent of passengers, but now they get only fifteen percent of the space. That’s obviously still much better than Economy class, but it’s down from the thirty percent or so they had in the original plane. These fliers are almost all in the top quintile: in real-life terms, they correspond to everyone from just below the 80th percentile of the US income distribution up to just above the 96th percentile. Roughly, that’s households making between $97,000 and $280,000 a year. Yet many of them feel a little angry about how little space they have. Strange though it seems, some of those in the seats closest to the front of their section even feel somewhat poor—at least by comparison to those a bit further up the plane. Air Gini understands their situation and compensates them with a complimentary in-flight snack.
What has happened to make Business Class more cramped? The answer is to be found in Ruling Class. Sorry, I mean, First Class. On Air Gini, those eight most-valued passengers—three and a half percent of those on board—get thirty five percent of the available seating space. That’s a lot of legroom. So much, in fact, that as First Class passengers have spread out to take up the first third of the plane, Air Gini has been forced to replace the luxurious Business Class seats in the real-life configuration with still-comfortable but noticeably smaller chairs.
Not to worry, though. Air Gini’s eight First Class passengers can really enjoy themselves, which is the important thing. And yet, even here at the head of the aircraft, Air Gini’s layout hints that inequality may extend all the way up to the flight deck. Two of the first class seats are close to the front of Business Class, and behind a bulkhead. Awkward. Those passengers make about $300,000 a year. The passenger in the very front row, meanwhile, makes a hell of a lot more than that and has even more room to relax in than his peers. All things considered, you have to wonder exactly who is flying this plane—and more importantly, perhaps, who owns it.