Ouch. I can feel my knees aching already

American Airlines has announced that it will be adding seats to about 174 aircraft.

This is a major retreat from their strategy to differentiate themselves from their competitors by offering a better coach product. (The aforementioned link is to the American website, so it may change with this new news.)

    Before you book your next flight, check the schedule, check the price, and make sure you check the legroom. Only American Airlines offers more room throughout the entire Coach cabin. Some airlines have more room in the first few rows of Coach. But ONLY American Airlines has removed seats from every plane to give you more room throughout the entire Coach cabin.

    Wherever you travel, choose American, and treat yourself to More Room and more comfort.

(Emphasis added.)

They are likely to deplot the new, more densely packed A300 and 757 aircraft on low airfare routes.

I wouldn’t be surprised if United, the only other major airline to offer more room in part of the coach cabin (reserved for elite flyers and full fare passengers), followed suit. In markets where they need to fill more seats to make money, adding more seats to the aircraft is attractive. It gives away a competitive edge in attracting high fare flyers, but an airline may not worry about that on routes where they aren’t attracting those passengers anyway.

The downside to this approach is that it presents a confusing marketing image. Now, American is truly the preferred carrier for road warriors who don’t fly first class or upgrade. They will no longer have this kind of product differentiation.

The further downside that United would face is that they currently only offer advance seat assignments for their section with more legroom to passengers to are paying more (full fare) or who fly a whole lot (and thus provide revenue across a stream of flights, whether they’re paying alot on that particular flight). As United tries to focus on winning the high yield passenger, taking away a benefit like “economy-plus” (as their more room product is called) takes away a factor that differentiates their product from Continental, Northwest, and Delta.

My prediction is that United will only follow suit on Starfish, if they ever move forward with that low cost carrier idea, or will only follow suit on the routes that would have been operated by a Starfish if the low cost carrier doesn’t come to fruition.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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