springcrop.jpgYou've heard of ticketless travel, but how about seatless travel? The US invented low-cost air travel, but the concept has been pushed to ever more uncomfortable extremes first in Europe and, now, China.

Spring Airlines, a Chinese low-cost carrier (LCC), has reportedly submitted plans for domestic services where passengers can save money by standing for the duration of the flight.

The radical proposal would help Spring cope with surging passenger numbers by squeezing 40% more passengers into its existing 13 planes. It has another 14 on order, but the long lead times mean that it may be a year or more before its fleet is sufficient to cope with predicted demand.

Shanghai-based Spring Airlines first suggested the concept of standing room-only tickets earlier this year. It is now considering officially submitting it to the aviation regulator before the year is out.

The idea of seat-less air travel is not particularly new. Airbus researched the idea in 2003 but quietly abandoned it. One would like to think that the reason was that commonsense prevailed but I suspect the reason was that the economic challenges facing the LCC industry then were not as intense as they are now.

Spring Airlines president Wang Zhenghua said that he was confident that the plan would get approved because the idea had been suggested by China's vice premier Zhang Dejiang.

He suggested that to make air travel more affordable in China, the airlines need to become more like bus operators, offering basic transport and nothing more. Everything else, such as food, water, luggage and even the right to a seat could be bought at extra cost.

Inevitably, Spring's proposal has also been endorsed by Micheal O' Leary, the flamboyant boss of Ryanair, Europe's oldest and biggest LCC.

This week, he made headlines around the world with the audacious announcement that Ryanair, too, was considering dispensing with the back rows of seats from its aircraft to accommodate a greater number of standing-only passengers. Well, what he really said was that it had asked Boeing to look at the possibility of delivering a new fleet with “vertical seating.”

Nevertheless, the image of O' Leary ruthlessly ripping out seats in Ryanair aircraft to squeeze in more punters captured the flying public's imagination – which presumably is why publicity-seeking O 'Leary floated this particular balloon even when it is unlikely to ever fly.

China's aviation industry has been growing at a rate much faster than the country's GDP and could grow to be the world's second largest aviation market after the US by 2020.

By 2010 China is expected to have 145 airports handling an estimated 500m people.

Previously, expensive air fares and limited seat availability kept air travel volumes in check but now low prices and increased travel options have got more and more ordinary Chinese choosing airplanes over trains.

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