The Vanishing Middle Class: Airlines Announce Squatting Class

If you’re a super-wealthy traveler, flying just keeps getting more luxurious. For everyone else, you might soon find yourself with no option but to fly in the new super-budget “Squatting Class” where even the free snacks have been taken away.

Airline consumers accustomed to three seat classes on airplanes – Economy Class, Middle or Business Class, and First Class – are now faced with a shrinking, or even completely absent, Middle Class. While some airlines are clinging to the past paradigm, others are embracing a future where the seating classes are more unequal and ideologically divided than at any other time in aviation history.

“The 5 percent of fliers with the highest incomes now account for 40 percent of airline profits,” said airline industry spokesperson Linda Forester. “For many airlines it only makes economic sense to respond to demand and modernize their seat and in-flight snack offerings to match the economic landscape.”

But critics complain that some airlines are taking things too far by creating the new “Ludicrous Luxury Class” with lavish amenities that only a small percentage of the super-wealthy can afford, and forcing almost everyone else into the new Squatting Class at the back of the plane. In Ludicrous Luxury Class, passengers are treated to super-comfortable seating, more snacks and drinks than they could possibly consume in a single flight, pedicures and adorable hypoallergenic baby animals. Squatting class passengers get no seat, little to hold onto, no overhead bin space and the option to purchase a small packet of snack mix.
“As the gap between classes widens, the prospect of forward mobility for those in Squatting Class becomes increasingly difficult and many simply lose hope of ever getting a free bag of snacks again,” says aviation commentator J.P. Warwick from the nonprofit Bookings Institution travel think tank. “Eighteen percent of consumers are already flying below the economy class, and those that can still afford traditional economy seating are having a harder time finding available seats due to shrinking inventory.”

Flier Jack Thornton on his way home to Ohio with his family from New York’s LaGuardia Airport reflected on the changes he’s seen. “It used to be that a blue collar job would allow you to get married, buy a house, have kids and afford a Middle Class seat,” Thornton said. “Nowadays I can barely afford to squat and buy a bag of Sun Chips for my daughter. Even worse, they aren’t even real Sun Chips.”

Defenders of Ludicrous Luxury Class seating say critics are engaging in unhelpful class warfare and are arguing for airlines to adopt unrealistic policies that kill jobs and border on Socialism.

Bank VP and Ludicrous Luxury flier Preston Prescott sees it this way, “What they’re really arguing for is the unfair redistribution of snacks. I didn’t get into Ludicrous Luxury Class by doing nothing and whining about how unfair life is. Look, at some point the free snacks have to stop. Otherwise, what incentive would anyone have to take personal responsibility and get out there and work for a better seat assignment? I don’t see why I have to subsidize someone else’s packet of Famous Amos mini cookies.”

Despite having higher base ticket costs, a dollar-for-dollar breakdown of Ludicrous Luxury Class benefits shows that passengers in Squatting Class actually pay more for less. To many, providing extra benefits to the super-wealthy seems counterintuitive, but Forester says that by providing a surplus to the Ludicrous Luxury Class airline policies are benefiting Squatting Class through the “trickle-back of snacks and in theory should promote additional Middle Class seat creation in the future.”

Last month, a group of protesters at Oakland International Airport brought the issue of airline class inequality international attention by establishing a makeshift encampment in Ludicrous Luxury class and refusing to move. The standoff with authorities lasted nearly three weeks. Ironically, the resulting airport shutdown only affected other budget travelers as the super-wealthy quickly found other options on private charter jets.

At the time, no one presented themselves as the leader of the protest group, and no coherent demand or organized strategy emerged from the group. When pressed, after five days of subsisting solely on in-flight snack packs and airline beverages, a majority agreed that Cheez-It Snack mix was far superior to Chex Mix, but Planters Honey Roasted Peanuts had more staying power. At day five, no one had yet opened the box of fat-free Snackwells Devil’s Food cookies. “We won’t rule it out completely,” said one protester that declined to give a name, “but if we go there, you’ll know that things have gotten really desperate.”

No solution to the shrinking Middle Class came out of the protest, but it did force many in Congress to sit up and pay attention to the long-ignored issue. While both sides of the aisle agree that a robust Middle Class section benefits all fliers, there’s no consensus on the best approach. Some are pushing for increased taxes and stricter regulation on airline pricing practices, others like conservative Congressman Justin Wagner of Arizona are arguing for a free-market approach.

“In my view, the American dream is alive and well, we just have to get out of the way. If you work hard enough, you too can one day work your way up to Ludicrous Luxury Class.”

“I’m not asking for the moon,” said Thornton as he and his family entered the airport, “I just want to be treated like a human and get a bag of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish now and again.”

[Photo Credit: Flickr user Kimberlykv]

Exclusive: Memo Details New United Airlines ‘Super Elite’ Level

I’m incredibly lucky. On my first day as editor-in-chief of Gadling, a highly reliable source sent us this memo. Too good to be true? Absolutely. As a hopelessly loyal frequent flier, I’m definitely gonna be lining up for this new program. If only I could get a blog on BoardingArea, my life would be complete. (OK, I’d settle for a blog on Upgrd, too!)



In an effort to recognize and reward our most valuable customers, we are introducing a new elite level, Global Services Plus. Selected MileagePlus® Global Services members will be upgraded to Global Services Plus membership before the new elite level launches June 1. Please be advised of special protocols for MileagePlus® Global Services Plus members.

Nondisclosure of Program

The invitation-only Global Services Plus program and its benefits are highly confidential. The names of program members may not be shared with anyone except any third party with which United has a marketing relationship. Media speculation about who may or may not be a Global Services Plus member will likely increase in coming weeks. Please do not confirm or deny the existence of the program or anyone’s program participation, even when it seems obvious.

Identifying Global Services Plus Members

All Global Services Plus members will be identified in your reliable SHARES reservation system with the code ENTLD. They may also be recognized at the airport, where they crowd around a gate agent, demanding to be upgraded. They are known to frequently use the phrase, “Do you know who I am?” (Please note: Sometimes they know who they are.)Addressing a Global Services Plus Member

Please do not refer to Global Services Plus members by their names or look them directly in the eye. A simple “sir” and “madam” is unacceptable when speaking with a Global Services Plus member. They must be addressed as “your highness” or “your royal highness” at all times. It is also required that you bow when in their presence.

Use of Carriers

New UnitedLitters® will be used to carry Global Services Plus members to and from the aircraft. Employees are currently being trained in the use of litters. Global Services Plus members may initially choose from a wide selection of carriers, including Egyptian, Chinese and French litters. All airport ticket agents and gate agents will be required to act as royal litter bearers.

Upgrade Priority

In the unlikely event a Global Services Plus member is not seated in United Global First®
or United BusinessFirst® you are authorized to remove any passenger from the flight, regardless of status, in order to make room for the Global Services Plus member. In addition, if there is insufficient room in the overhead space for a Global Services Plus member’s luggage or pet, you are authorized to remove another passenger’s luggage and gate-check it, or to remove the lower-status passenger, if necessary.

Interaction with Other Passengers

Unfortunately, it will sometimes be necessary for a Global Services Plus-level flier to interact with other passengers. If that happens, you must refer to the other passengers as “the little people” or “peasants.” Note: Employees are encouraged to call non-Global Services Plus members “gate lice” and “kettles” in the presence of a Global Services Plus member and to laugh at the member’s jokes.

Flight Attendant Protocol

Because of their high value, Global Services Plus members will be given special latitude when dealing with United flight attendants. On occasion, these special customers may refer to an attendant as “honey” or “babe” or snap their fingers and demand the attention of a “stewardess” or “steward.” Also, they may repeatedly press the flight attendant call button for no apparent reason. If this happens, it is imperative that crewmembers respond with a smile and “yes, master.”

Customer Service

In the event of a customer-service failure – for example, if a United Global First® lie-flat seat fails to recline all the way or a Global Services Plus members’ Chardonnay is not chilled to the right temperature – you are required to take immediate corrective action. It is mandatory that the new United Cat O’ Nine Tails®, which are now being introduced on all aircraft as part of the TSA’s new SortaSafeFlying program, are swiftly used to administer punishment. An employee may either choose to self-flagellate or may opt to have a supervisor administer the punishment in the presence of the Global Services Plus member. You must continue administering the punishment until the Global Services Plus member says, “enough.”


If a non-elite or a lower-tier frequent flier acts in any way that offends a Global Services Plus member, it is to be considered an infraction comparable to interfering with a flight crew. This may include accidentally bumping up against the Global Services Plus member while boarding the aircraft, using the lavatories in United Global First®, attempting to stow luggage in an empty overhead compartment in United Global First® or the simple fact that they exist and are sitting in United Steerage® or United SteeragePlus®. These bothersome passengers may be removed from the aircraft at your whim or can be double-cuffed and left in the aft galley for the duration of the flight.

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

TSA To Allow Entertaining Passengers To Cut The Line

As part of its ongoing efforts “to enhance security screening measures and improve the passenger experience,” the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will now give expedited security checkpoint privileges to passengers willing to sing, dance, juggle or tell jokes to others waiting in line.

The pilot program begins April 1 at airports in Los Angeles and New York. “Those are cities where we have a lot of folks hamming it up on the security lines anyway,” said TSA arts and entertainment director Lance Strongarm. “So we thought we’d give it a try.”

Some passengers will be able to volunteer to perform; others will be chosen at random by TSA officers to step out of line and into the spotlight. “Yes, there will actually be spotlights,” said Strongarm. “We want to do this right.”

Passengers waiting to be screened will be invited to vote, by clapping, whistling or booing, on whether the person performing goes to the front – or the back – of the line.

“It will be a cross between ‘America’s Got Talent’ and ‘Survivor’ – but at the airport,” said Strongarm. And because the TSA already has cameras filming all activity that takes place at checkpoint areas, “it will be easy to provide footage for the reality show we’re shopping around that will help generate needed funds for TSA operations,” he said.

One TSA officer, who asked not to be identified by name, gave thumbs up to the plan. “We really don’t want to touch your junk,” he said, “but we would appreciate hearing some nice funk or folk music while going through your things.”

Travelers polled at LAX Terminal 4 over the weekend gave mixed reactions to the new plan. “I love it and will go practice juggling small knives and souvenir bats as soon as I get home,” said one passenger, noting that those items will soon be allowed back on airplanes as carry-on items. “I’d say it sounds like an April Fool Day joke,” said another, “but we all know the TSA has absolutely no sense of humor.”

[Find more by Harriet Baskas on and follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas]

Baggage Handler: ‘Airline Passenger Packed The Kitchen Sink’

When it comes to packing for a vacation, there are those travelers who are minimalists, and then there are those out there who pack for every contingency. Imogen Needitall, a traveler from Atlanta, falls into the latter category. The 39-year-old caught the attention of airline staff after her oversized baggage got stuck in a conveyer belt passageway. A search of the passenger’s luggage revealed an 18-guage stainless steel kitchen sink.

Needitall’s excess baggage was first flagged when she went to check in for her flight between Atlanta and Nairobi. “Not only did her suitcase exceed the allowed dimensions, it was also 50 pounds over the weight limit,” says check-in agent Alissa Jones. To avoid paying hefty excess baggage fees, the airline urged Needitall to remove some of the items from her checked luggage. “Like a lot of travelers, I figured she had just packed too many shoes,” said Jones, “but to my surprise, the passenger started pulling out pots and pans – you know, the kind you cook with. She also began to remove some cutlery from her suitcase, but I had to stop her because we don’t allow sharp objects to be carried onto the flight.”Once it reached a reasonable weight level, airline staff allowed Needitall’s suitcase to be checked in. However, for Atlanta International Airport baggage handlers, the problems had only just begun. Routine x-rays of checked luggage revealed a suspicious rectangular metal object in Needitall’s suitcase, sparking off security fears. But before baggage handlers could reach the extra-large bag, it had managed to jam itself into section of the conveyor belt passageway.

“We actually had to cut the bag open in order to pull it out,” says baggage handler Neil Perkins. “That was when we saw what was inside. At first I thought it was some sort of newfangled explosive device … but I had a strong feeling I’d seen the object before. That’s when I realized it was a sink. Looking back, it seems so obvious, but taken out of the context of a kitchen, these things are easy to confuse. We’re trained to look out for bombs and other security threats, so the kitchen sink caught us off guard.”

When questioned about the unusual luggage, Needitall simply remarked, “Well I’m heading to Africa and I heard they don’t always have running water there. I just wanted to be prepared.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user scalespeeder]

New Travel Startup Unadventure Caters To The Whelmed

When she was 16, Londoner Jennifer Olive went on holiday with her parents to the British seaside resort of Blackpool. The weather was lousy, their hotel was bland and she can’t remember where they went or what they did. A disappointment? Not so.

“A year later I went backpacking round India, walking one of the spice trails near Kerala. When you got up in the morning you had no idea what would happen that day, or what was ’round the next corner. Plans fell apart; we had to take detours and at one point we got lost and ended up staying with some total strangers. There was this constant sense that anything was possible. I hated it. The following year I went back to Blackpool and I’ve been every year since.”

Like many Britons, Olive believes that good travel is about exploring your comfort zone. A 2012 survey by Rough Guides found that more than three-quarters of Brits have been to the same destination more than once, and one in ten have returned to the same destination more than 10 times. The chief reason? The satisfaction of familiarity. Olive believes this kind of travel meets a basic human need to put down roots wherever you go, making a travel destination feel like a second home.

“It’s obviously important to see the world – but life is just too short to have a string of experiences that fail to meet your expectations. In the 32 years I’ve been spending my summers at Blackpool, I’ve got to know the place in a really deep and lasting way. I know every rundown cafe; I see the same people getting older – it feels familiar in a way India never did. I’ve rented out the same cottage for the last two decades, and at the end of every stay I carve a notch in the wainscoting. There’s a little line of notches there now. It helps me keep track of where the years went.”

Now she’s putting that guiding ethos to work with a startup she hopes will revolutionize 21st century travel. Set to launch in early 2014, is a luxury tour operator that seeks to present its clients with the ultimate tailored travel experience – down to the very last detail. New customers fill out a 60-page application form and attend a series of interviews in order to build a detailed personality profile, and it’s this profile that determines the kind of holiday they’ll be given. Fond of the British cooked breakfast? That’s how you’ll start your days on your Unadventure holiday. No second language? Unadventure will find the perfect English expat enclave for you, or even ensure you don’t have to leave the country at all. From your favorite reading material to a sightseeing itinerary that guarantees no surprises, the aim is a bespoken holiday that will make you feel you’ve barely left home.

“They say that adventures happen when plans fall apart, and that’s exactly what we’ll seek to avoid at Tourism statistics show that most people don’t want to be overwhelmed by their travel experiences – and obviously they don’t want to be underwhelmed. What they want is to be whelmed. We’re going to whelm our customers. As part of the concept trial I anonymously put myself through the profiling process, and at the end, my team built the perfect holiday for me … in Blackpool. I feel that says a lot about the service we’re offering.” launches in early 2014.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user Яick Harris]