Airlines aren't known for treating their coach customers luxuriously. But a Russian airline has apparently taken Spartan transportation to new heights, forcing six passengers to stand during a recent flight.
It appears to be a violation of European aviation standards and poses several questions, not just about comfort but safety. The six passengers were apparently without their own life vests or oxygen masks, let alone seatbelts in case of a rough landing, turbulence or a crash.
The Tatarstan Airlines flight last week from Antalya, Turkey to Ekaterinburg, Russia was fully booked with a tour group. At the last second, a Boeing 737 with 148 seats was replaced with another one that only had room for 142 passengers.
The tour company, according to local media reports, offered the passengers a choice: wait seven hours for another flight or stand for the five–hour flight back to Russia. All chose to stand, although they are now seeking $4,700 in compensation. The tour company offered about $200.
Irish carrier Ryanair -- the worldwide leader in outlandish ideas -- has floated the concept of standing-room-only seating. But European regulators quickly dismissed the idea. Last year, Spring Airlines, a low-cost carrier in China, tried to get regulators there to approve a plane redesign to allow some standing passengers.
So far, no government has been willing to back such a plan.
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration requires all passengers to be buckled into their seats from the moment a plane leaves the gate until it reaches calm air at cruising altitude. The FAA also requires any seat to be able to help passengers withstand forces 16 times that of gravity.
Apparently the Russian airline wasn't following such stringent safety rules.
When the plane flew through turbulence, they went from standing to sitting in the aisle but still did not have a seat belt, a passenger told Russian media.
"This doesn't surprise me because I've heard of these horror stories on airlines in China 20 years ago," said John DiScala, a blogger known as Johnny Jet, who travels about 150,000 miles and visits more than 20 countries each year. "One thing is for sure, it makes the worst low-fare carriers in the U.S. look like five-star airlines."
Tatarstan Airlines has been around since 1993 and is the regional airline of the Republic of Tatarstan, part of the Russian Federation. The airline flies three types of older Boeing 737s as well as some smaller regional aircraft.
An airline official told London's Daily Mail that, "We cannot deny this happened to our customers. But the company will not share any details until everything is clarified. Our own investigation of this accident is about to begin."
Luckily, for U.S. passengers, all they have to deal with is cramped seats. Spirit recently introduced seats that won't recline. And a seat-design firm is trying to sell – and get regulators to approve – new seats that look like a cross between a bike seat and a horse's saddle.