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Airlines Want Passengers to Stand During Flight

The next time someone jokes about planes being so full that airlines will start selling standing-room tickets, don't laugh.

At least two carriers, one in Europe and one in Asia, are seriously considering it.

Spring Airlines, a 4-year-old carrier that calls itself China's first low-cost airline, is seeking permission from that country's aviation regulators to reconfigure its planes to allow some stand-up "seats." Standing passengers would pay less than their conventionally seated fellow travelers.

The idea may not be dismissed out of hand by Chinese regulators because it was suggested by China Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, according to Air Transport Intelligence, a website that focuses on global aviation industry news.

Meanwhile, Ireland's Ryanair, arguably the world's most innovative low-cost/low-fare carrier, says it, too, will sell standing-room-only tickets if the Irish Aviation Authority will change its safety regulations.

Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's chief, suggests standing passengers could be safely strapped to stools or railings.

The idea isn't that far-fetched, considering O'Leary's history. Earlier this year, O'Leary said he would like to charge passengers to use his planes' restrooms, and floated the idea of charging overweight travelers more to fly.

O'Leary has pioneered a number of cost-saving steps, including buy-on-board food, and beginning this summer, the elimination of airport check-in counters.

Although there are plenty of copycats in the airline industry, travelers in the USA aren't likely to get the option of flying on their feet any time soon.

"The regulations are very specific," says Les Dorr, a spokesman for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that regulates air travel. "Everybody above the age of 2 has to have a seat or a berth."

The legal term "berth" likely dates to the era of piston-engine planes that offered sleeping berths for cross-country flights.

But that antiquated legal language isn't likely to offer a loophole to airlines interested in packing more people aboard their flights by strapping them in standing up, Dorr says.

"It's probably a stretch to say that leaning against a rail or a stool would be a 'berth,' " he says. "Clearly, the intent of the law is that everybody over the age of 2 has to have a seat."

From an economic standpoint, the concept has legs in an industry trying to cut costs.

Removing seats to accommodate standing passengers could increase capacity on domestic flights up to 50%. Even if standing passengers paid lower fares, the result could be an increase in revenue per flight. It also could let airlines lower costs by allowing them to offer fewer flights and employ fewer workers.

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