Creative Airline Pricing, Cost Cutting A Sign Of The Times

Recent airline pricing changes have brought some lower fares through some creative re-categorization of seats with mixed results. Before, buyers of air tickets could count on the good seats being in first or business class and the bad seats in coach. Now, airlines are breaking it down further with seating options that offer seats a bit better and worse than the standard fare.

Delta’s new sub-economy ticket most likely gets penny-pinching travelers a middle coach seat, formerly known as the worst of the worst, at a discount. The fare is non-refundable, no changes can be made and seating assignment happens at the airport.

“If you like sitting in middle seats and having your travel party split up, you’ll love Delta Air Lines‘ new Basic Economy class,” says the Orlando Sentinel’s Ed Perkins.

Going the other direction, US Airways offers ChoiceSeats, which are for sure not a middle seat and are mostly window and aisle seats towards the front of coach. Some may have more legroom via a seating configuration change or their location in exit rows. All get priority boarding, eliminating a fight for overhead storage space.

I took the bait on US Air’s ChoiceSeats from Orlando to Amsterdam last week thinking, “Hey, for $50 the extra legroom will surely be worth it.” On the first leg of that flight from Orlando to Philadelphia my hunch was right. The airline had reconfigured seating to have two rows of seats where three were previously, allowing for a good deal of extra space.But on the next long leg from Philadelphia to Amsterdam I had no such luck. All “Choice” meant was priority boarding and no extra space. Oddly, seating diagrams on both flights looked exactly the same.

Talking with a passenger who had flown using US Air’s “Choice” option before, I was told with an eye roll, “It’s kind of a crap shoot. Sometimes there’s more room, other times not, just kind of depends. Wait ’till they bring dinner.”

Sometimes it’s hard to hear correctly at 39,000 feet, but I was not real sure why this guy threw in the comment about dinner. Later, I found out.

The choice was chicken or pasta. When the flight attendant came by I asked, “What should I choose, Chicken or Pasta?” Her answer: “Your best bet is to go out for dinner.”
This was dead on accurate.

Was it a big deal? No, not really in the grand scheme of things. The flight arrived early and my luggage made it with me. That should be good enough.

Airlines are cutting back on non-essential services and making moves like offering different categories of seating in an attempt to provide rock-bottom low fares. If they can do that while maintaining and improving on-time service and luggage handling, this should be good enough.

“Airlines are finally catching up with what their promise is, which is getting you there on time 80 percent of the time with your bags,” said Dean Headley, a business professor at Wichita State University in an ABC News article. “They realize that people are paying a lot more money, and the system is more complex than it was, and they have to do a better job,” he said. “To their credit, I think they are doing a better job.”

Flickr photo by redlegsfan21