THERE IS A new science in this country that is called human engineering. The object of human engineering, as I understand it, is to fit human beings into inhuman conditions.

I made this discovery recently while riding on an airplane from New York to Washington. Seated next to me was a man who was taking a very careful measurement of the space between us and then writing it in a notebook.

I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was a human engineer, and it was his gob to see how many more people he could squeeze on an airplane without doing permanent bodily harm to the passengers.

"We used to have five seats across," he said proudly, "but we've managed to put another seat in each row, and as you can see, we can now get six people across."

"How on earth did you do it?" I asked him.

"We cut the center aisle in half. The passengers have to walk sideways, but just think of what the extra seats mena to the company's payload."

"Which of course, is all you're worried about?"

"You can bet your sweet whistle on that," he said. "I'm very concerned, though, that there still seems to be room between your knees and the seat in front of you."

"Only about two inches," I said.

"Well, if you take two inches away here and two inches away there, you can put another row of seats on the plane."

"Then my knees should be flush against the seat ahead?"

"Naturally, my dear boy. You can't expect legroom on such a short hop. One more thing, I was wondering how you feel about a reclining seat as opposed to a stationary one."

"I prefer a reclining seat. It gives me a chance to rest a little."

He started writing in his book: "Customer too tempted by reclining chair, so I strongly recommend stationary kind, which will allow us two more rows in back."

He looked at me. "You came on board with a package. What did you do with it?"

"I put it under my seat."

He wrote again: "Customer can still get package under seat, which means we're wasting valuable space that could be used better for airfreight."

"You people really think of everything," I said.

"We try to," he replied, "but it's a tough struggle. There are a lot of people in the aviation business who are behind the times, and we have to show them that their best interests lie not with the passengers but with the stockholders. I'm having a devil of a time trying to get the company to remove the armrests."

"You want to do away with the armrests?"

"Of course. If you did away with the armrest, everyone would be forced to sit closer together, and we could get eight people in a row."

"Say, have you ever thought of putting people in the baggage rack overhead?" I asked him.

He studied it for a few moments. "It could be done, if we could fit them in horizontally." He made another note: "Check about stuffing people into overhead baggage rack."

"You covered all the bases," I said in admiration.

"Not quite," he said, staring at the washroom.*