When Silly Ideas are Accepted

Almost 20 years ago something struck me as particularly silly. I was flying a lot for work and that year I had spent a lot of time on Delta Airlines - before July 4th flying over 100 legs. A benefit of all this flying was I frequently sat in the exit row.

One design challenge with exit row seating is that the usual tray table solution does not work. The extra seat pitch leaves the tray table too far away. Not to worry though: there are two basic solutions. You can take the standard tray table and add extendible arms, or you fold the tray table sideways into the armrest. Either of these work. There are pros and cons to each and I can imagine engineers debating the merits every time there is a new aircraft configuration.

If either solution to the exit row tray table challenge is good, why on earth would you opt for both? A fold down and an armrest tray table at the same seat. That would just be redundant and silly. Well, some airlines - including Delta - had two. More than one airline still does this so please send me pictures of them when you next fly.

Think of the waste created flying around extra tray tables. You fly a jet many hours a day and each extra pound of weight is critical. If you fly a dozen or so extra tray tables on most of your jets, for thousands of hours a year each, it must add up to something big. Tons of carbon fuel burned for nothing and a huge pile of cash destroyed.

All those years ago I wrote to a senior executive at Delta - yes an actual letter - and they sent me a reply. It thanked me for my input, but concluded that due to some stock keeping restrictions there was nothing they could do.  They assured me that the optimum way to handle this challenge was to have two trays in the exit row. Something to do with only being able to keep one type of regular economy chair in inventory. If they had a chair with the tray table removed that would mean two types of regular economy seat in inventory. Unacceptable so that was it. Case closed.

Never mind that with the right tool it would take me 30 seconds a chair to remove the extra tray table from a standard seat. Not to worry about the fact that other airlines did not follow this silly story -  that two tray tables were absolutely the best solution. I wonder if anyone even put a dollar figure to what this decision cost Delta?

Some twenty years on, with a bankruptcy behind it,  Delta has a corporate responsibility statement that says it will maximize profitability and reduce impact to the environment. Well not until it conquers this silly story.

Come to think of it, next time I am on one of these planes I need to check and see if there is a tray table in the last row, the one that does not recline and has the toilet behind. Wedged in the small space behind the seat will I find a tray table that has never even been used?