The new trend in economy seating reverses a half century of seat growth in economy class. Early jet planes like Boeing’s 707 had 17-inch seats, a dimension based on the width of a U.S. Air Force pilot’s hips, says Airbus marketing chief Chris Emerson.
That standard for long-haul flying increased to 18-inches in the 1970s and 1980s with the 747 jumbo and the first Airbus jets. It widened to 18.5 inches with the Boeing 777 in the 1990s and A380 superjumbo in the 2000s. Now, cost-conscious airlines are moving to lighter 17-inch-wide seats on their Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliners and 18-inch seats for A350s.
And just this month an unmanned hypersonic jet reached Mach 5, averaging 3,300 miles per hour for about five minutes. That’s faster than a speeding bullet fired from a high-velocity rifle, and quite possibly Superman himself.
But there’s a big difference between this hypersonic flight and the ever faster computers that have penetrated nearly every corner of society, and now travel everywhere in pockets and purses, and even on some people’s faces. We don’t get to use the really fast airplanes. We’re actually flying slower than we were 50 years ago. It turns out we’re just too cheap to fly faster.