Stealing from the airlines

Yesterday there was a story on the news about voice being given to the thought of pay toilets on airlines. Now we're all certainly tired of fees and some airlines, like Southwest, are taking advantage of that to advertise their lack of fees.

An exchange this morning on the flight has me thinking about how we think about the airlines.

Economy Plus

For some background you need to understand Economy Plus. United has implemented this "tween" class. It is basically economy but for a fee you get seats with extra legroom. It costs more and you get something for it. The "extra" amount isn't as much as business class or first class, but it is a higher priced ticket. Generally these sections are the front of the economy section from the exit rows forward.

As we prepared to depart this morning a woman, appearing to be in her 50s and dressed as a business traveler might, approached the flight attendant about moving up to the exit row. The flight attendant explained these were a higher price section and that the traveler was welcome to move within the section she purchased tickets in. After takeoff and the beverage service the woman waited until the flight attendants were further back in the plane and moved up to the exit row anyway.

So you say, the seat was unused and what was the harm, really? I mean after all it didn't cost the airline anything, right? Well, not so fast. You see several passengers, likely on both sides of the "line" saw this. And what they all learned is you can buy the cheaper seats and steal the more expensive ones. Yes steal. It is no different than switching price tags in a store or just taking that candy bar that you want but can't afford. It is taking something you didn't pay for. I assume that this passenger had the opportunity, as I did at every juncture to purchase an upgrade. Certainly United isn't shy about putting that offer in your face at every turn. Simply put she didn't do it. Now she wants the benefit of having paid for it when she didn't. So it's theft.

Well but is it really hurting anybody? Yes. It is de-valuing the price paid by the people who did choose to go for the more expensive tickets. You can be sure next trip they'll think twice and say "well it really doesn't matter because people who don't pay for it get it anyway". And the passengers who paid for seats in the exit row thinking they might have extra room also got less bang for their buck and will think twice before doing the upgrade again.

The interesting part of the psychology is that it's easy to believe the passenger who took money from the airline would not have thought about jumping into the first-class cabin. That line being more significant helps make what one is doing more clear.



You're not taking it far enough

Maybe the seats *should* be devalued? Devaluing the pricier seats diminishes the airline's motivation for creating this artificial scarcity by reducing the demand for it. Perhaps the long term result would mean better seats with more room for everyone overall.


When I thought about blogging this I meant to specifically address this point as I figured it would be a hot topic. Whether the practice is good or should be continued is really a different debate. Certainly from an environmental standpoint it would be better to eliminate First Class, Business Class and Economy Plus in favor of a more efficient means of moving people. However whether people choose to pay for the upgrades that are available or steal them without remorse is different than the question of whether the practice is good.

A good topic to explore but one that is different in my mind.