Welcome to Air Gini. On this flight, the seats are laid out to match income distribution in the U.S. Suffice it to say, you’re not sitting anywhere near first class.
The space on a regular plane, of course, is already divided unequally. The seats with more space up front in first and business class have more space per person than those in the sitting back in cattle class. But Kieran Healy’s Air Gini retrofits an Airbus A330-300 so that the space allocated to each class reflects the share of income earned by the people in its seats.
The Gini Coefficient measures inequality, expressed as income distribution. For his fictional airline, Healy takes the proportions of passengers on the regular plane and uses it to calculate the income of each group. For instance, around 80% of the people on the regular Airbus are in economy. Using figures from the Census Bureau, economics professor Emmanuel Saez, and the Federal Aviation Authority, Healy calculated that 80% of the U.S population earns $97,000 or less per year. Between them, these folks take roughly 50% of all U.S. income, so they get 50% of the space on the plane. To recap, 80% of the passengers on Air Gini get to use just 50% of the plane’s space (on a regular plane, it’s only slightly better: they enjoy 58%).
Business class contains 18% of the plane’s passengers. These represent people in households making between $97,000 and $280,000 a year. On Air Gini, business-class passengers gets to use 15% of the plane’s space, and they’re pissed about it, because on a regular plane, they get double that amount, or 30% of the plane’s space.
Up front in Air Gini’s first class, 3.5% of the plane’s population (just eight people) gets to spread out in 35% of the plane’s space, up from a mere 11% on your typical passenger jet. These passengers represent the percent of the general population that earns over $300,000.
It’s a neat visualization of income equality, and one that’s especially apt because we’re already well aware of the inequality of air travel, and how it is caused exclusively by money. Now all I want to know is how much extra legroom we’d all get if all the seats on the plane were equally distributed throughout the cabin.