EasyJet, the new speakeasy?


in Politics, Travel

For some reason, booking a trip a few days before it is going to happen makes it feel a lot more decadent. With regards to all this inexpensive air travel, you have to wonder how people in thirty years or so will look back on this period. It’s possible that it will be seen as a time of gilded luxury, with similar historical ‘lessons’ to those of the 1920s. It is also possible that it will be seen as just another step on the path to wherever humanity finds itself in 2037.

The psychology of my recent trips to places at the edges of Europe (Estonia, Turkey, Morocco) also bears consideration, though at a time when I don’t have to dash off to a meeting.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Lee June 18, 2007 at 12:05 pm

For the vast majority of people the 1920s were not an era of “gilded luxury”. Most people are far better off today — cheap flights that are available to the relatively worse-off in Western countries being a sign of how much better off we all are. I think we do have a twisted sense of human progress at times. Yet in some important fields our progress is stymied: sub-Saharan Africa is going backwards in developmental terms, while real wages for working people in the US and UK had stagnated since the 1970s. Clearly there is still a LOT more to do, and a lot that can be achieved. Conversely, I agree that a poorer, less free world in 2037 is a real enough threat given the abstemious, moralising and backwards political mindset of much of what passes for progressive politics among our generation. If in 30 years we look back on today as some sort of golden age we will only have ourselves to blame.

Anon @ Wadh June 18, 2007 at 1:28 pm

You could also say that EasyJet has democratized something that was once the privelege of an elite. Cultural exchange has a good bit of value to it, as well.

Milan June 18, 2007 at 5:24 pm

For the vast majority of people the 1920s were not an era of “gilded luxury”.

Doubtless true. By the inverted commas around ‘lessons’ I meant to suggest that this is a bit of potted history: an easy comparison to the economically deprived 1930s.

Tristan Laing June 18, 2007 at 6:23 pm

I really believe that cheap air travel is sustainable. But not cheap Jet travel. We could run the same number of flights using a small fraction of the fuel if we were willing to go back to turbo prop, fly low elevations, and fly only 250mph. Sure, it would make oxford-vancouver flights annoying, but for flights around Europe the differences would not be astronomical.

Milan June 19, 2007 at 12:14 am


Nineteen hour flights would certainly be annoying. What is the relative fuel usage per kilogram-kilometre for turboprop aircraft, compared with jet aircraft? Are they much better than the fuel saving designs Airbus and Boeing are now producing?

Tristan June 19, 2007 at 7:38 am

I don’t know the numbers, but it’s simply the case that it’s much easier to push something around at 250mph rather than 500mph. It uses, a quarter of the energy?

And besides, you should know that the new “fuel efficient” jets are actually worse for creating con trails. The problem is not the amount of carbon they dump in the atmosphere, but the way it seeds clouds, and lowers the mean evaporation rate.

Propellor planes would fly lower, which means the air would be thicker, so some of the fuel economy savings would be offset. I’m sure it would still be terribly more efficient. Also, flying lower reduces to nil the contrail effect.

Tristan June 19, 2007 at 8:04 am

The Hercules has a range of 2400 miles at its maximum takeoff weight of 155000 lbs. It holds 9680 U.S. gallons.

The 737 800 has a range of 3,370 miles. A max take off weight of 155000 lbs. And it holds 6,875 us gallons.

hmmmmm. So it seems I have been defeated. Still, it stands to reason that if you fly the same plane slower, it should burn less fuel. The Hercules isn’t exactly built with fuel consumption in mind. Still, its cruise is only 292mph compared to 500 or something of the 737. I would have thought the lower cruising speed would help it out a lot.

. June 19, 2007 at 3:35 pm

Friedrich Nietzsche

“The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others.”

Sarah June 20, 2007 at 6:51 am

There was a New Scientist article about flight efficiency issues in February 2007, which (alas) can only be accessed in full via their website if one has a NS subscription. If I may be forgivehn for quoting at length, it states the following:

“85,000 commercial flights take off each day, and this number is predicted to double by 2050. Despite healthy advances in fuel efficiency over the past 30 years, experts agree that further improvements will be far more modest. The problem, according to Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, is that the aviation industry is mature, and conservative to boot. Much of today’s aerodynamics research is a “sunset endeavour”, he says. “There is not much left to gain except by the glacial accretion of a per cent here and there over long time periods.”

The result is a widening disparity between the air industry’s growth – over 5 per cent annually – and the projected improvement in jetliner fuel efficiency, which is nearer 2 per cent each year. Even ACARE sets no firm timetable for its goals, saying only that the cuts in emissions will come sometime beyond 2020. Reaching them will require “substantially more output” from aeronautics researchers and “important breakthroughs” in technology.

So where will these breakthroughs come from? Not from conventional aircraft design, warns Bushnell. If the industry wants to continue to grow but grow green, it will have to make some radical changes – and take some radical risks. What we need is little short of a design revolution.”

The article goes on to explore the sort of design changes which would be required to achieve much better fuel efficiency, & indicates that more fuel efficient designs might be contrary to passenger happiness insofar as they require a radical redsign of the shape that would increase the extent to which planes roll & mean that people wouldn’t have views out the window. Further, it noted that the issue of new, fuel efficienct plane designs is somewhat moot if the airlines continue to rely on very old, inefficient planes for the vast majority of flights. In sum, major gains in energy efficiency *might* be possible but the technology is thusfar untested, there is a lack of investment and willpower on the part of the airlines, and passegners might dislike the results.

Milan May 26, 2009 at 11:24 am

So it seems I have been defeated. Still, it stands to reason that if you fly the same plane slower, it should burn less fuel.

This chapter of David MacKay’s book provides a detailed explanation of why making planes slower doesn’t make them more energy efficient.

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