The term VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing), which the Harrier Jump Jet uses to dispense with airstrips, is taking on new meaning with airlines proposing tantalisingly cheap flights in which passengers travel standing up. Not completely upright, though, because international regulations require seat belts, which require seats to attach themselves to. “Standing” passengers get a little barstool-like projection to perch on.
VivaColombia is the latest airline to propose “vertical seat” flights to the South American country, which is becoming a hot tourist destination. For real tourism, not to experience Narcos in real life. Earlier, Spring Airlines of China and the Irish pioneer cheap carrier, Ryanair, have thought out loud about getting passengers to rise to the occasion and buy criminally cheap standing-only tickets. However, regulators in several countries have grounded the idea on safety considerations, though it is now understood that the only way to survive an air disaster is to take the train instead. Passengers also protest that standing flights would take the romance out of flying, though it was blown away long ago by terrorism. There is nothing romantic about standing in long queues in order to be stripped naked by X-ray machines and felt up by security, so that you can board aircraft packed like the slave galleys in Ben Hur. On short-haul flights, no one really misses the free peanuts and personal entertainment system. And only the deeply masochistic look forward to airline meals, which have always tasted like freshly microwaved tyre-tread washed down with watery industrial wastes cunningly mislabelled “tea” and “coffee”.
For the majority in economy, jetliners are like cattle wagons anyway. Having to stand like cattle will not alter this reality. Dreamed up by Airbus in 2003, the “vertical seat” has had to stand down for too long. But now, its time seems to have come.