Airline seat pitches

In response to this article on The Age

Is seating space a big issue for you? Would you pay, say, 5% more for extra legroom in standard economy, instead of the high rates currently being charged for premium economy? Which airlines have given you the best deal on space – have allowed you to sit in an exit row without extra charge, for example? Which airline is the best or just “feels” the best for seating space?

The 5% figure just won’t cut it. Assume the difference between 34″ and 30″ quoted in the article is approx 30 seats – i.e. 20% reduced capacity. Assuming the airline is running at or near capacity, that means they need to charge 20% more to EVERYONE on the plane. I actually think this is a reasonable thing to do, as the current situation is a joke for probably 20% of the population (i.e. anyone over 6′) and growing. We spend more making things disabled-friendly.

Whilst an extra few inches might make a difference for some over 6′, it won’t for all. So you end up not capturing the long tail, but sticking to people between 6′ and probably 6’4 as your target audience. I think 6’4 is a much more reasonable ‘outlier’ than 6′, so is sensible in a policy sense. You still need a policy for the exceptions though.

If you were taking a full user-pays approach, that extra 20% leg room used by only 20% of the plane would mean lo and behold you double the price for those people (approximately what the deal is now).

I think a better system would be to acknowledge the height distribution of the population and provide different (varying by as much as 30%) pitches that do cost more, but are only available to people who are taller, and possibly their companions. Of course, if you find yourself in the situation where shorter people are lining up to pay more (up to 30% more, but probably better capping 20% extra room & 20% extra price, 30% if you’re greedy to make extra profit on the basis of better segmentation), then you know it’s time to deck out a whole plane that way, without risking profits. If not, then the varied pitch strategy will work.

DISCLAIMER: I am 6’2″ and always try to claim an exit row seat that is a) not next to the window, as these often cramp even a 5’nothing person and b) not behind a wall, as these provide more sitting room but NO stretch room.

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