Yes, seats are getting tighter and tighter. The latest round of such came out as news yesterday of American Airlines planning to add a couple rows of seats to its 737MAX aircraft compared to the similarly sized 737-800s flying today. These new planes will now feature three rows of seats at 29″ pitch, dropping below a threshold previously reserved for the very low end of the LCC market.
SCOOP: American is going to 29-inch pitch in part of economy, United considering the same https://t.co/XISpMh4Kiv
— Jon Ostrower (@jonostrower) May 2, 2017
The reaction has been almost universally negative from customers, unsurprisingly. But two specific posts on social media this afternoon caught my eye as they take diametrically opposed views on the value of airline loyalty in this new era.
— Cynthia Drescher (@JetSetCD) May 3, 2017
On the one hand, loyalty is a good thing. Elite status gets perks and one of those is access to the extra legroom seats on board. Details vary by program and status level but top tier elites typically get access at the time of booking while bottom tier elites can pay at booking or get access to any remaining seats at 24 hours prior to flight. So loyalty has some value there, but at what cost? Would it be cheaper to fly a mix of airlines and buy the legroom when you need/want it?
If fares and flight times are the same then getting the perks is obviously a good deal. But if you’re paying extra to get there – especially in an era where airlines are tying loyalty to spending patterns, not just miles flown – is it really worthwhile? Of course, there are other benefits of loyalty beyond just getting the extra legroom seats, but that is probably the most consistently delivered benefit with real value associated to it.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who feel that paying any premium to fly with a preferred carrier is a lost cause. Sure, that loyalty might get you a couple extra inches of space on board but that’s easy enough to buy these days. And the proliferation of new carriers and routes means more opportunities to explore different destinations along the way. No longer a “slave” to connecting at Heathrow or Narita or Newark or Frankfurt or Paris, the opportunities to see more places is a refreshing change of pace. Ditto for getting to fly on different airlines and meet different types of travelers along the way.
Of course, status isn’t only about the seat. Neither is travel. Priority handling when flights go awry, shorter check-in lines, free bags, and lounge access are some of the other benefits status can bring, depending on the airlines and tier. Then again, many of those benefits can be purchased ad hoc or realized via a credit card for a much lower fee than steering travel spend to meet a status goal. That is not necessarily an easy set of numbers to evaluate the RoI on.
Also, there’s this crazy notion of loyalty, no matter how irrational it may be, that drives behavior just a little bit. We continue to love the brick, knowing full well it does not love us back.
So, which way does your loyalty play?
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