Trading legroom for Wi-Fi: Are we crazy?

Trading legroom for Wi-Fi: Are we crazy?

A new study says most air passengers would accept less comfort for more Wi-Fi. Someone’s missing a connection
Actress Helen Hayes in "Airplane"
"But I don't want any more Wi-Fi!"

​On most days, I’m an amiable traveler.

There are times, however, when, perhaps like you, I find it necessary to disparage my fellow travelers, tourists, passengers, guests (or whatever we’re calling ourselves these days) as sub-literate mushroom spores richly deserving of whatever poor treatment the world has in store for them.

Such a time is this morning as I scan with alarm the results of a new study covering the services and amenities travelers have come to expect from airlines.

According to the survey conducted among 3,000 adults in the U.S., UK and Singapore, “almost 90% of fliers would give up an amenity on their flight -- preferred seats, extra legroom and more -- to be guaranteed a faster and more consistent wireless connection.”

The majority of respondents said they use in-flight connectivity for personal rather than professional purposes.

The study was released by Honeywell Aerospace, an American company whose line of satellite and connectivity products gives it a prominent interest in the no-duh conclusion that most of us want more playtime with our gadgets while flying.

In a press release, Honeywell positions the message of the study as indicating a “major shift in the definition of passenger comfort when flying.”

Sounds pretty benign.

A “shift in the definition" of comfort.

Kind of the way “troll” and “spam” have fun new meanings.

A more accurate, if slightly more perverse, summation of the report might go like this: They’ve finally broken us. We’ve gotten used to being treated like ball bearings in a box and we’re OK with it, just as long as we continue being fed sufficient diversions.

Leave me to my own devices

I’m not going to whip out the rusty old, “Pull your head away from your device for five seconds and interact with the world like a normal human being” argument. I text when I drive and sacrifice just as much of my humanity as you do with that damn phone.

What unsettles me about the study results are a pair of assumptions it raises – one mine, the other from the authors of the survey.

First, I like my legroom -- I appreciate it more than I appreciate some members of my immediate family  -- and even the slightest suggestion that other passengers are willing to betray my need for personal space so that they can speed up the roll of their next electronic solitaire card depresses me.

It’s like the first ant in the kitchen; the first weird, late-night phone call your girlfriend takes in the other room; the first drop in barometric pressure.

From little things big things grow.

[Side note to all you people who lean back more than an inch in an airplane or bus seat: stop doing it, it’s rude. Bummer your parents did such a lousy job with you, but there’s still time to add a few social graces to your public persona. While you’re at it, turn off the bleep-bloop-kaboom volume on your dumb game when you’re sitting next to someone who’s trying to read or ignore you.]

The second issue I have with the study is the either/or relationship it implies exists between seat comfort and decent Wi-Fi.

Why the airborne Sophie’s choice? Who’s the presumed industry savant behind this attempt to convince us that we can’t have any pudding if we don’t eat our meat?

Start waving those passengers bill of rights around at airline counters and pretty soon you get a reputation as a troublemaker.

But there are some indignities even amiable travelers shouldn’t so compliantly allow themselves to be subjected to.

Trading my legroom for your “We’re almost there” emails is one of them.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chuck Thompson.

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