I’ve never seen Sharon unwittingly walk into a tornado of comments like she did last week. Apparently her thoughts in her article United: The Airline That Proves They Just Have No “Effs” To Give were more controversial than she imagined they would be. The basis of the article was about United’s Twitter team response to a request of a passenger to upgrade to the empty rows of Economy Plus left empty in front of him.
What seemed to set everyone off what Sharon’s comment about how United could have instilled some goodwill to passengers by offering upgrades to the empty seats.
Frankly, I don’t see what’s so horrible about Patel’s initial question. The cabin door was closed and no one else was going to use those seats. It certainly didn’t (or rather, shouldn’t have) hurt to ask to move forward, nor would it have hurt United in any way to let him move and allow him and everyone else in row 22 have more room.
Based on the comments the post received, the consensus is that those seats are reserved for people who paid for them and if other passengers wanted to sit there, they should have paid the money to upgrade their seats.
While there’s no doubt that’s true, I offer the counterpoint that running a flight with rows of Economy Plus seats empty has never motivated someone to book those seats on a future flight.
The reason those seats are empty is that the people sitting in the rows further back feel that the price difference for the seats doesn’t warrant the extra cost. Now that may be true and if so, the airlines need to reevaluate the price premium charged for these seats. The other problem is that people may not realize the difference between the two types of seats and what a difference in paying the extra money will make for their inflight experience.
How will anyone ever know what flying in these seats is like if they’ve never done it before? I’m not going to pay for a seat that United (or another airline) is charging $25 to $200 extra for if I have no idea of what that’s worth. However, if I’ve had the opportunity to fly in Economy Plus and know how much difference that extra legroom makes, I might be willing to pay for that in the future.
Not upgrading people to these seats and leaving them empty is a lost opportunity. You might have shown a passenger how much better their flight experience could have been if they paid the extra money. Personally, I’d be willing to pay extra to fly on American on if it meant I didn’t have to work on my laptop working like this:
Once I flew on them in a Main Cabin Extra seat, I was convinced maybe their planes aren’t so bad (kidding, I know they are).
Sharon’s original post wasn’t trying to suggest that people should just self-upgrade. However, it did seem to pick at a scab many frequent flyers have; who has a right to those better seats on the plane. While higher members of airline loyalty programs have access to those seats, the riff-raff does not. Is it any wonder that those passengers don’t want to pay extra for those seats? While they may just be looking for the cheapest seat available, the also might not know what they are missing out on.
For instance, I’m now willing to pay for a stretch seat on Frontier now that I know how much better the experience is than flying on a regular seat. The same for people will only fly on Spirit when they can get the “Big Front Seat.”
So why wouldn’t it make sense that upgrading a passenger to an empty Economy Plus seat on a United flight and showing them how nice it is might make them be willing to pay for it on a future flight? I think that’s a more likely scenario than a passenger wanting to pay for that seat on their next flight because they saw it sitting empty and wondering what it might be like to sit there.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary