In 48 hours I’ll be on a Delta Airlines plane bound for Atlanta where I’ll catch my connection to Lima (Ana is flying straight from Mexico City to Lima returning from a vacation with her family). I’m not usually an obsessive person, except in airports and airplanes – and when I’m obsessive, the observant economist in me (and therefore the questionable part of my personality) comes alive.
It begins at the security gate. “Mr. Powell, please remove your jacket, shoes, belt …” – geez, how far does this have to go? I even had to surrender my glasses one time. The incentive is simple here – fewer clothes mean fewer hassles (and therefore lower airport transiting costs). I am thinking sundress, flip flops, and a ridiculously small handbag is the optimal solution, but an option I can’t exercise for obvious reasons.
Why are people so anxious to board the plane even though they have an assigned seat? The answer is undefined property rights. If you get on the plane early, you get first dibs on storing your bags in the overhead compartments, even if it’s not the compartment above your seat. Squatter’s rights goes to those who best position themselves so they are first to the door when their boarding zone is called. Charging for carry-on bags would solve this problem, and make life at the gate feel less like a kennel full of dogs waiting to be fed.
And what’s the deal with armrests? -- yet another problem of undefined property rights. Has your seat neighbor ever claimed the whole armrest and contributed to your claustrophobia? Shouldn’t the upper half of the armrest go the person in the left seat and the lower half to the person on the right seat? Even in the 21st century, the only way to protect your armrest claim is through brute force and physical positioning.
Those of us with a social conscious take into consideration the costs our choices impose on others. Thus, we seek to be good citizens on the plane. This temperament forces a dilemma on a long international flight when your seat neighbor is sleeping, you have a window seat, and your bladder is full. At what point is the social cost of waking your neighbor worth the personal benefit of restored biological comfort? I’ll let some Nobel Laureate figure that one out.