Updated: February 27, 2014 6:43AM
To make it through subfreezing temperatures of this brutal Chicago winter, some lucky folks are looking forward to the splish splash of spring break trips in March.
Those who will fly to sunny destinations in economy class need to be ready for an uncomfortable ride, probably more irksome than the last.
Airline travel is thankfully safer than ever; yet, it continues to grow increasingly unpleasant for most. Passengers are crammed like cattle in narrow rows in economy class, where it is rare to get a complimentary snack to graze.
Seats are made of lighter weight and thinner materials these days, allowing airlines to install additional rows or make first- and business-class seats larger and cozier.
In economy class anyone about 5-6 or taller must hope that the person in front does not recline the seat against those vulnerable knees. Over in first class passengers receive complimentary glasses of wine, hot meals and warm chocolate chip cookies.
Even in the air, the disparity between “the haves” and those who have less since the Great Recession is on the rise.
Airplane travel is a parallel universe to life on the ground, British author and design expert Keith Lovegrove, who last fall released a book, “Airline: Style at 30,000 Feet,” said in a phone interview.
“You are hurdling through the sky 61/2 miles up in a pressurized tube, but life is adapted there,” he added.
Airline travel used to be an elegant affair for only the rich. Three or so decades ago it became attainable for the masses.
For most of that time, comforts of home existed for all. Sandwiches and chips were offered and passengers could shift comfortably in their seats, even if they sat in the back of the plane.
Understandably, airlines became more conscious of their bottom lines after 9-11. The extra charges customers pay for a few inches of extra legroom, to check a bag or buy cheese and crackers have helped the industry stay profitable.
In turn, customers have become strategic. People cram their possessions in small suitcases that they jam in overhead compartments.
“Wear casual clothes only, such as jeans and T-shirts,” USA Today advises on its travel tips web page. “Don’t wear clothes that you could use to attend church. They’re often not comfortable, and can make you feel constrained in an already tight space.”
Old-timers who remember luxurious travel and throwbacks who insist on dressing up might cringe.
Far from luxury, cost cutting has made air travel an irritating means to an end. Even flight attendants wear haggard expressions from doing more with less. Compared with international crew members who wear impeccably tailored suits, American-based flight crews sometimes look as sloppy as some passengers.
“I saw a pilot with a hole in his shoe,” said Christine Smith, 46, of Mason, Ohio, who boarded a flight from O’Hare to San Diego last week. On another flight she noticed a pilot with his shirt untucked.
“When they look like they’re coming out of a frat, you don’t want to see it,” Smith added. “You want to see Top Gun, not an average Joe.”