A story in Tuesday's editions of The New York Times noted how many airlines are looking at a new generation of thinner seats as a way to boost head count.
Automakers should be sending these guys a micro-mini bag of pretzels and half a can of soda as a gift for prompting people to drive instead of fly. What the heck, send them two bags and a full can!
Even with gasoline on the verge of $3 a gallon, traveling by car still has to be less painful than battling the traffic, security-line waits and insanity of someone trying to stuff a steamer-trunk-sized bag into the partly full overhead bin back in the gulag class of an airplane.
I know this because the memories are still fresh from last week's family road trip, which had all the makings of an American classic -- two pre-teenage boys, luggage, a station wagon and 620 miles between Detroit and their grandparents' house in Iowa.
The verdict: It was a fun drive.
This was in no small part due to the vehicle. Our station wagon wasn't the fake-wood-clad LTD Country Squire that I grew up with but a Ford Freestyle -- a member of the burgeoning class of "crossover" vehicles that are in fact station wagons on steroids.
Three rows of seats meant each kid had plenty of elbow room. Try finding that on an airplane.
The roof-mounted DVD player kept them entertained. Note to Ford designers: The large DVD screen, combined with the high-mounted front seats, blocks most of the view out the rear window -- not a good thing in heavy traffic.
Good weather and mostly clear roads made for fine cruising. We covered the distance in nine hours. And the Freestyle, equipped with a continuously variable transmission, averaged a very respectable 22 mpg.
Even with gasoline near $3 a gallon, the two tanks of fuel needed to get there cost about $80. You can bet a round-trip ticket to Des Moines for one would cost more than $160.
The real mystery here is: Why isn't Ford selling more Freestyles? Through the first three months of this year, Ford sold 16,842 Freestyles. And while that's 1,300 better than Ford's Freestar minivan, Freestyle sales paled in comparison with Toyota, which sold 29,403 Highlander crossovers in the same period.
One possible answer is price. The fully loaded Freestyle had a sticker price just above $37,000. People in Iowa who liked the wagon's look and road manners shook their heads when they saw the sticker.
Thirty years ago, import vehicles were rare in my hometown. Today, they're commonplace. Winning those people back will require Ford and General Motors to deliver great products at a great price.
Pretzels and soda are optional.
You may e-mail Dale Jewett at [email protected]