In a flash of 15 minutes on the first day of the Dubai Air Show, two Gulf airlines agreed to spend $100 billion on new planes. Emirates and Qatar Airways jointly purchased at least 200 of Boeing’s 777X, a refashioned version of the classic jetliner with longer wings that curve like a bird in flight (and fold up to fit at smaller airports). Then, Emirates bought another 50 of the world’s largest passenger plane, the double-decker Airbus 380.
The flush atmosphere in Dubai, with a record $200 billion in deals, defied a broader malaise in the airline industry. Western carriers, loaded up with debt, are busy cutting costs and trying to fit more seats into their existing jets; Airbus even took the unusual step of publicly calling for 18-inch-wide seats in economy cabins. (The new norm is 17 inches; first-class passengers enjoy 21 inches.) And the airlines now have to compete with budget carriers like easyJet even for business travelers. Air travel, it seems, has lost some magic.
Look around, though, and it’s still possible to find the glints of wonder that ought to be associated with flying through the air in a metal tube. New premium amenities from Virgin Atlantic and Jet Blue. Actual beds on first-class flights by Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa. In-flight meals that aren’t bad, even in economy class.
Will air travel become more like the Dubai Air Show, extravagant and well-financed, or devolve into a game of consolidation and ever-narrowing seats? Like the rest of the economy, it will probably go both ways—and only the lucky few will end up in the nice seats.—Zachary M. Seward
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
The inner workings of US toy sales at Christmas. Roberto A. Ferdman on how the risk-averse nature of retailers explains the insanely enduring popularity of Elmo dolls, and Matt Phillips on why this Christmas could be make-or-break for Toys’R’Us after losing its spot as leader of the toy world.
You think you’re not racist, but… It turns out we all are. Ritchie King crunches the data from 2.4 million (heterosexual) interactions on the dating app Are You Interested to discover which ethnic groups are most likely to respond to which other groups. Turns out men of all races prefer women of races other than their own.
Be very scared of antibiotic resistance. Seriously. Gwynn Guilford on warnings from medical researchers that the overuse of antibiotics—particularly in farming and in poor countries—could throw us back to the world of a century ago, threatening our ability not just to treat diseases but carry out surgery.
Meet the most powerful woman in the art world. The 30-year-old sister of the emir of Qatar runs the emirate’s museums authority, oversees a reputed $1 billion art-buying budget, used to intern for Robert de Niro, and isn’t afraid of nudes.
There are four ways to fix US education and you won’t like any of them. Peter Marber argues that the country can solve its rampant unemployment only with education reform, including eliminating summer holidays, getting rid of 12th grade so students can start college sooner, and not using property taxes to fund public education.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Countries get the banking systems they deserve. Charles Calomiris and Stephen Haber in Foreign Affairs debunk the myth that crises happen because financial systems are just too complex to regulate. Rather, their frequency varies from country to country and is tied to the nature of the political system.
How to read Machiavelli. The Prince is 500 years old. Michael Ignatieff in the Atlantic argues that its enduring appeal is due not to Machiavelli’s insistence that politicians should act amorally, but that they shouldn’t lose sleep over it, and because of his impatience with the political posturing that passes for morality.
Selling pot legally is a lot harder than you think. When the US state of Washington legalized marijuana, it had to create systems of regulation and taxation for a market that had never had them. Patrick Radden Keefe in the New Yorker profiles the people tasked with taking weed mainstream.
Advertising and you: an evolutionary arms race. As we become more cynical about ads, ads have evolved to play off our cynicism, sending ironic, even anti-consumerist messages to lull us into sympathy. Adam Corner in Aeon dissects the psychological games that keep the ad industry always one step ahead.
The man who tracks Syrian weapons from his living room. “Brown Moses”, or Eliot Higgins as he’s known in real life, is an unemployed English blogger who has used social media to make key discoveries about weapons used in the Syria conflict, taking “open-source intelligence” further than probably anyone. Bianca Bosker profiles him in the Huffington Post.
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