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Innovative Airlines? Are They Kidding?

The new “10 Most Innovative Airlines” report from raises praise of trivia to a high art. Most of the so-called innovations featured are either further tweaking of already ultra-luxurious first-class and business-class cabins and cabin service, or cosmetic changes and PR hype—stuff that’s all sizzle and no steak.

Among the latter: featured vodka brands, duty-free merchandise display cases, new branding campaigns, partneships with contemporary designers, healthy-flying tips booklets, a new corporate structure. Wow! Those perks sure make flying better for you folks in the back of the plane.

The report does, however, describe a few innovations that are or will be actually meaningful to ordinary travelers on economy tickets:

  • Above-average 34-inch seat pitch, rather than the knee-crunching standard of 31 inches, on Korean’s A380s.
  • Improved baggage-tracking technology on Delta.
  • An empty-seat option on AirAsia X: Pay a fee of $10 to $16 to increase your odds of having an empty seat next to you; this is refundable if the seat has to be filled.

But the paucity of this “real innovations” list illustrates what we already know: Airlines these days devote lavish attention to their international business- and first-class services while giving the back of their hands to those in economy. But that’s the way it is—and the way it will remain as long as most economy travelers buy the cheapest tickets they can find, regardless. Oy.

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