Home Airlines Unpopular Opinion: Leaving Premium Seats Empty Has Never Made People Book Those Seats In The Future

Unpopular Opinion: Leaving Premium Seats Empty Has Never Made People Book Those Seats In The Future

by joeheg

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).

Final Thoughts

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


Ken O. September 16, 2019 - 3:11 pm

So what about the passenger who DID pay for an Economy Plus seat? Is he or she a sucker for not holding out until the plane is ready to take off in the hope of getting that seat for free?

joeheg September 16, 2019 - 7:11 pm

No. They felt the cost of the seat was worth the money and are sure to have the extra legroom. Other passengers who would be upgraded to the seats, before boarding of course, would have no such guarantee.

PM September 16, 2019 - 3:20 pm

Are you serious? You really don’t need to try our Economy Plus to be in incentivized to buy up next time.
Leave them empty or pay for it. You must have ran out of topics to dig this up again.

joeheg September 16, 2019 - 7:13 pm

Most passengers flying in the back of the plane never have sat in a + seat. Letting them try it would cost the airline nothing.

Edward September 16, 2019 - 11:00 pm

I am unsure if it would cost the airline nothing. Some airlines offer complimentary drinks in premium economy. In addition, it may cost the airline should the policy dissuade others from purchasing the a + seat if they think that they will get upgraded anyways. I agree with the notion of letting the economy + people spread out, if they reassign before boarding.

Vee Jay, JD (@veejangl) September 16, 2019 - 6:13 pm

Really? Imagine the precedent being set. A mad dash of passengers moving seats as soon as the plane door closes? Single family member buys Economy Plus, and then places “dibs” on three other empty seats for his entire family as soon as the cabin door closes? It’s a recipe for chaos.

joeheg September 16, 2019 - 7:31 pm

I never said that this would be a self upgrade situation. There has to be a time where the airline knows they’ll have empty + seats that are just wasted inventory. So why not upgrade passengers before boarding?

Lara S. September 16, 2019 - 6:26 pm

My counter to your counter is- I’d think they should offer the row to other customers who are already in E+. So they could spread out. It is so rare to have a row empty honestly, I’d jump at the chance to not have someone next to me, even with the few inches of extra legroom. Let the E+ passengers spread out, they paid or earned it with status.

joeheg September 16, 2019 - 7:29 pm

That’s a good point. Which leads me to ask why the airline is so stingy with the seat assignments that they don’t already allow that???

Greg September 16, 2019 - 9:03 pm

So if first or business class is empty after upgrades, they should give the empty seats for free for people?

I suppose in a stadium they should let people in the nosebleeds sit in the front row after the first pitch for free if no one bought the tickets.

joeheg September 16, 2019 - 10:38 pm

Why not. That inventory is dead once the flight leaves. And I’ve seen so many posts on social media from passengers thanking an airline for leaving them in the exact seat they booked while part of the cabin is empty. The stadium analogy is slightly flawed because there’s a chance those people could still show up halfway through the game. There’s no way someone is going to claim those seats midflight.

CR September 16, 2019 - 11:37 pm

Have you given thought as to how these “gods” (FA or GA) should decide whom to grace with an upgrade? Maybe racially? How about social status? Looks? Height? Cash talks? Wait – the one in the business suit! I think it’s a real can of worms you’re unintentionally opening here. And you’re unconsciously putting a real burden on the airline employees. Let’s just let this one lie to avoid unintended consequences. Upgrades are for sale – indiscriminately.

Enorê Bondan Filho September 19, 2019 - 10:09 am

Leaving Premium Seats Empty: An airline with a (very) horrific yield management. Floating prices should be the norm for that!

Kris October 6, 2019 - 6:48 am

Wow. Okay. Let me gather my thoughts. I may need the help of bullet points.

– People get ‘better seats’ all the time on United. Most people in economy have no idea because those first/business class are the ones given away.
(My credentials: used to work in UA reservation call center)

– First/business class have completely different services and are divided by a curtain for the exact reason this article happened (hey, there is an open seat there, it looks better)

– Not just United but all airlines that charge higher prices for emergency seats care more about profits than the safety of their passengers.

– It is appealing that seat pitch is more valuable than the seat (being able to stretch out in unused seats is okay but moving to a row with more legroom in a no no)

– I do not have a problem with people spreading out in economy if there is room, even if I paid for extra leg room because i see it as I KNOW I will get extra legroom and not gamble that a flight attendant will take pity on me and let me move.

What this boils down to: people need to feel special. You make one seat blue, the other red but upcharge the blue seat and people feel special compared to the red seats because blue seats paid more.
This is happening in every industry.

Hmm. Not sure the bullet points helped.


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