Class Warfare Takes To The Skies

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Nov. 21 2011 11:16 AM

Class Warfare Takes To The Skies

73635902
A first-class seat on the new double-decker Lufthansa Airbus A380.

Photograph by Mario Tama/Getty Images


A fascinating Jad Mouawad article confirms what I'd anecdotally suspected, international first class accommodations on airlines are getting more lavish. This is in stark contrast to the generally deteriorating quality of the domestic air travel business. Tight regulation of fares used to prevent airlines from competing on price leading them to instead compete on quality. After deregulation in the Carter and Reagan administrations, it turned out that what passengers really wanted was cheaper tickets, so quality has been steadily eroded as prices fall. But international first class is different. Why? The article explains that "the airlines are betting that the image of luxury they project for the front helps attract passengers to the rest of the plane."

That certainly helps explain why you see first class accommodations emphasized in airline advertising in a way that seems disproportionate. But does it really make sense to invest in delux amenities just to project an "image of luxury" to folks on the back of the plane? My guess is that the real answer is more banal. Income inequality has been rising sharply for decades. The Congressional Budget Office recently found that between 1979 and 2007 the top 1 percent more than doubled their share of income earned after taxes and transfer payments. Relatively few people can afford to fly first class, but with "first class" types commanding a larger share of overall resources it makes sense for firms to increase their emphasis on this market segment. What's more, pre-tax inequality has risen even faster than after-tax inequality, so things like first-class air fare that are often simultaneously luxury goods and deductible business expenses are especially valuable. 

Advertisement

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

An Unscientific Ranking of Really, Really Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 11:51 AM It Seems No One Is Rich or Happy: I Looked
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 23 2014 12:02 PM Delightfully Awkward Studio Action Shots of Players, Used on Early Baseball Cards
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 12:01 PM Who Is Constantine, and Should You Watch His New Show?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.