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Travel | Christopher Muther

The airlines call it basic economy. Misery class is more accurate.

American Airlines was one of two carriers to introduce a new, sub-economy class this week.Alan Diaz/AP/file

I know what you’ve been thinking.

You’ve been gazing at your limited edition Franklin Mint “Butterflies of the World” commemorative plate set and wondering “How can I make air travel less enjoyable?”

Lucky for you the airlines have been pondering the same question. This week both United and American Airlines introduced a new, sub-economy class. It seems impossible to un-improve on the economy experience, but they somehow did it. They call it basic economy. It’s already earned the name misery class. Steerage is also an acceptable moniker.

Some of the features of misery class include no overhead bin space, no choice of seat, no upgrades, and you board after everyone else has boarded. Even pets.


The upside is that you get to save a few dollars on your airfare. The downside is that you lose whatever remaining dignity you still possess to save a couple of bucks.

In their defense, the big three legacy carriers, otherwise known as American, Delta, and United, have been swatting away at pesky competitors such as Spirit Airlines for a couple of years now. Spirit is the ultra-low-cost carrier that has found a following with penny pinchers and contortionists who can comfortably squeeze into seats that look as if they were designed for toddlers.

Following the old “If you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy, the legacy carriers are copying the Spirit model by psychologically beating their customers into submission and then hoping those customers will join their frequent flyer programs.

Let’s hypothetically say you’ve opted to forgo dignity and buy a seat in misery class. I’m here to help you make the trip a bit more enjoyable. Because you can’t choose a seat ahead of time, you will be unable to sit with your family or spouse. I suggest rigging up a high tech communication system of cans and string. This way you can stay in touch at all times. Or try leaning over your seat and yelling. I know that fellow travelers adore that kind of behavior.


You’re saving money by not bringing a carry-on, so get ready to layer a week’s worth of clothes on your person. Start with underwear and other unmentionables, top that with your bathing suits, T-shirts, pants, jeans, dress pants, skirts, dresses, and then maxi dresses. Make sure you load up the kids as well. Think of them as little walking hangers. Layer like it’s going out of style because, well, it is. Top it all off with an oversize jacket with lots of pockets that can store your toiletries. Fashion extra shoes into a surrealist, Salvador Dali-style hat.

Chances are you’ll be in a middle seat, so start dieting a month in advance of your flight so you can comfortably fit in your seat, especially since you’ll be wearing 15 extra layers.

Finally, there’s that walk of shame you’ll endure as you board the plane after every other group has been called. Fellow passengers will look up with pity in their eyes as you and your 15 layers of clothes attempt to squeeze down the aisle. Children will point and snicker, teenagers will pull out their phones to post your visage all over Snapchat. To avoid this, head up to your attic before you leave for the airport and dig deep into your box of Halloween costumes. Grab whatever masks you can find, and as you get on the plane pull one over your head. See who’s laughing when you look at them from underneath that rubber clown mask. Who knows, maybe you’ll scare enough people off the plane you’ll get that window seat after all.


Christopher Muther can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther