Airlines and Customers Spending More Money on Seats

I’ve gotten a few emails asking me why I haven’t commented on Northwest’s plan to charge a $15 premium for their ‘best’ coach seats.

While there’s the risk of holding back some elite seating and generating some marginal revenue, I more or less see it as a non-event because outside of the exit rows Northwest really doesn’t offer any decent seats in coach worth paying extra for.

And the few times that there are actual seats somewhat (barely) better than others in coach, they aren’t necessarily the ones that Northwest will be charging more money for. As always, consult Seat Guru for your choice of seat and by all means don’t pay Northwest extra for their pitiful coach product. (At least United’s forward rows in coach offer additional legroom…)

Meanwhile, United announced that it will spend up to $165 million to upgrade its international business and first class seats. While I applaud the move as a consumer, this isn’t where I would put the dough. United’s business class seat isn’t currently lie-flat, it was state-of-the-industry about 7 years ago and in my view actually holds up quite well. It’s perfectly comfortable. United’s first suite was also at the top of the pack when it was introduced. It hasn’t weathered as well, mostly because you now have to check to see if you seat is properly functioning when you first board. But I’d be happy with United just replacing broken seats and maintaining them properly. Oh, sure, moving to something like ANA offers in their NewStyle First would be nice. But it’s a perfectly good seat as-is. Where United falls down in the premium cabin is service, catering, and video-on-demand. Upgrade those with that $165 million and I believe they’d get more bang for the buck.

Admittedly I’m speaking mostly out of ignorance here because I don’t yet know what the new United seats will be like, but I do know that no matter what the seats I won’t crave a United First experience like I do Singapore, Cathay, or ANA (and I’ve heard good things about Emirates) as long as union seniority determines who works the front cabin and as long as the meals are unimpressive.

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, 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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