The Airlines Think Their Seats Are Like Broadway Seats


The big airlines know they can’t depend on ticket sales to put smiles on the faces of their investors. The airlines don’t like to discount their standard fares, but in an industry that craves constant attention, cheap fares are the flavor of the day. But those cheap fares don’t pay all the bills, according to the big dogs in the airline industry. That why airline executives started charging for checked bags. Those bag charges amounted to $4.5 billion in revenue in 2017. That’s a 10 percent increase over the $4.1 billion the airlines put in the bank in 2016.

But baggage fees are just a slice of the add-on pie that the airlines need to survive. They need to generate more money from their customers so there’s a new marketing plan in the works. And that plan will give those frazzled airline executives some breathing room. Selling pre-boarding seat assignments is the new cash cow in the friendly skies. Those cheap fares lure customers into a web of additional charges. The cheap fare sounds good until travelers realize the fare is just the opening act. If travelers want a window or an aisle seat that feels right to them, they have to pay more.

In other words, when customers buy a cheap ticket to their final destination they also have to pay to rent a seat on their flight. The airlines sell high-priced real estate these days. The seats are like properties that travelers buy while they sit in a sardine type atmosphere.

The airlines claim they want to expand their product mix. Selling seats is one way to expand that mix. Assigned seats aren’t a given anymore. If customers want an appealing location while they travel for business or pleasure, they have to pay more for it. According to airline executives, buying an airline seat is like buying a seat to a Broadway Play or like buying a seat at an NFL football game.

But not all air-travelers want to buy a special seat. Those customers still have to check-in at the gate. They get to pick which middle seat works for them. According to a recent survey, picking a special seat can cost anywhere from $9 to $59. And during peak travel times those seats cost more.

Selling seats is here to stay, according to some airline executives. But in the airline industry, nothing stays in fashion very long.


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