The loneliness of the long-distance panda

The “Loneliness of the Long-distance Panda”, written by my friend Jacey Bedford, is in the current Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science. It’s a quirky piece and I had a lot of fun reading it. It’s available here. It isn’t a long tale, and I can’t think of a way to review it without giving away spoilers that you would not thank me for. Suffice it to say that it’s extraordinarily well written, fun in a dark way, and will be over much to soon. Takes about five minutes to read – longer to think about.

Air Rage: Short term memories, long term profits.

When I was a kid flying around the world in cabin class, I can remember climbing into a BOAC VC-10 and being appalled that the seats were so narrow. I don’t think that I’d be appalled by that today. I think that the US airlines picked up the habit of shrinking seats sometime in the last thirty years, and that the Airline Rage that everybody blames on rude passengers is largely what I’ll call caged rat syndrome. Put enough rats in a small enough box, they’ll go nuts and start eating each other. I think it can happen to people, as well.

When I was a kid, six-foot tall men could sit upright in passenger class on most US airliners without their knees pressing into the back of the seat in front of them. I’m lucky, I’m only 5’7″, and I still don’t have my knees pressed into the seat in front of me. But 6 feet isn’t an unruly height for an average European American, and six footers spend entire flights feeling their knee-caps being slowly misshapen by the seat in front of them.

My most recent several flights have been aboard the aircraft construction monopoly’s 737-800, and they’ve been very uncomfortable flights. The construction monopoly has solved the problem of passengers reclining their seats too far by the simple expedient of limiting that recline to about three or four inches. It isn’t quite far enough to allow me to lay my head back in the seat to take a nap. When I relax, my head lolls forward, so if I do get a nap, I wake up with a desperately stiff neck.

I’m reaching back into memory, since documentation isn’t hanging out in the internet, but my memory tells me that the average Boeing 747 that sold on the US market in the 1970s seated about 435 passengers. Today that same airframe seats at least a hundred more people. The airlines complain that Americans are suffering greater girth to height ratios than they did a couple generations ago, and that is no doubt true. But those airlines cleverly ignore the fact that they’re crowding more bodies into the same airframes and expecting us to be just as comfortable. Add ineffective hypersecurity at the gates, and extra charges for meals, luggage and movies that come in boxes for a relatively small percentage of passengers. Then add in the fact that the authorities blame the passengers for air rage, which means that a pissed off cabin attendant can pour a cold coke in somebody’s lap, then have the passenger escorted from the plane if he barks or airs a grievance.

Air rage may be unacceptable, dangerous to other passengers, and childish. Still, given the 100% full red-eye flights that I’ve taken the last several times I’ve flown out of Alaska, with short me suffering far less physical aggravation than most of the Alaskans on those planes, I have to suggest that Airline Rage is also absolutely predictable, unavoidable, and fully preventable.