Airbus says to make the seats wider

October 28, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Fleets, Airline Seating | 1 Comment

Airbus has gone on record saying that there should be a minimum standard for seat width on international flights and that width should be 18″.

Notice that Airbus has no opinion on seat pitch (think legroom) whatsoever.

The reason Airbus wants an 18″ standard is that it downgrades Boeing aircraft without impacting Airbus aircraft.  Airbus tends to build its airplanes a touch wider than Boeing but not wide enough for another seat row.  This means that Airbus is perceived as being a little bit more comfortable.

This comes at a cost, however.  Airbus aircraft is typically heavier and has more drag on a per seat basis than Boeing aircraft which are really designed around a 17″ to 17.5″ seat width.

Boeing can claim a 10 abreast seating configuration for its 777 airplanes whereas Airbus has just a 9 abreast configuration for its A350 aircraft.  If 18″ is the new standard, Airbus will remain 9 abreast but Boeing would have to downgrade its claims to 9 abreast.

The truth is that many airlines do operate the 777 in a 9 abreast configuration today.  Some have gone to a 10 abreast configuration (and are largely despised for it.)

I can’t say that I disagree that an 18″ wide seat is far more appropriate for an international flight.  Hey, let’s go whole hog and ask for 18″ wide seats with a minimum seat pitch of 32″ for an international flight.

It’s all academic anyway because there is zero enforcement authority for this anywhere.

It’s Airbus being an upstart and getting attention again.  Positive attention that cost them not a single penny.

 

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Frontier: The last Frontier?

August 1, 2013 on 1:00 am | In Airline Seating | 1 Comment

There are news reports that Republic Holdings has entered into negotiations with third party to sell Frontier Airlines.  Frontier, as it exists today, is made up of Frontier Airlines as bought by Republic as well as Midwest Airlines also purchased by Republic.

The two purchases were an attempt by Republic CEO to diversity his company.  That attempt was arguably quite unsuccessful.

I never sensed that Republic knew what to do with both Frontier and Midwest.  There seemed to be a lack of ideas on how to make these airlines rev up and win for Republic and even basic marketing seemed to defeat them.

When Frontier was for sale, Republic bested Southwest Airlines in price for the airline and that never once felt very smart to me.  In hindsight, I think Southwest likely bid appropriately and when it lost, it did the right thing in walking away and looking for other opportunities.

Who is the buyer this time?  Who knows.  I would speculate that it could be an Ultra Low Cost Carrier such as Allegiant or Spirit and that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

It could be a mainstream airline but the only one I would learn towards in jetBlue.  It certainly isn’t going to be Virgin America although I’ve long harb0red the idea that jetBlue combined with Virgin America and Frontier Airlines c0uld, at once, become an airline that spanned the United States and even might win big.  But I appear to be the only one who thinks that.

Would Southwest buy the airline?  No, I don’t think so.  Frontier doesn’t offer opportunities that it offered several years ago.  Southwest is a very different airline today with very different needs.

Could it be any of the other legacy airlines?  US Airways?  American Airlines?  No, no way.  United Airlines?  No, that airline is too busy with solving its own problems.  Delta Airlines?  I don’t know why given that Delta has Frontier bracketed in all markets already.

The truth is that I don’t even see jetBlue as a big contender.  That airline has been stuck in a rut for several years and nothing has changed in its operations to make me think they are looking for a risky purchase.

I think Frontier is going to go to Allegiant Airlines.  Spirit Airlines has too much good organic growth going on today but Allegiant is looking to adopt the A320 series aircraft and Frontier offers some opportunities that are complementary more to Allegiant than Spirit.

Time will tell but I don’t see Frontier lasting very much longer as an independent airline.  It’s be sold or liquidate at this point and the reasons to buy that airline wane more each day.

Update:  (The above post was written on Monday, 7/29/2013 and scheduled)  There is some new information that investors and directors currently associated with Spirit Airlines are the buyers for Frontier.  These directors are William A. Franke and John R. Wilson.  Franke is the current Chairman of the Board for Spirit (Ben Baldanza is President & CEO) and John Wilson is a director whose term ends in 2014.

Bill Franke is a former Chairman and CEO of America West and current managing partner of Indigo Partners (a major investor of Spirit) and John Wilson is a principle at Indigo Partners with a background in finance at several airlines including America West Airlines.

Indigo is selling its shares in Spirit Airlines asap and these two are withdrawing from the board asap.  Do the math.  I was wrong, this isn’t Allegiant buying Frontier.

But . . . while Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air are doing great as Ultra Low Cost Carriers . . . how many ULCC airlines can the US handle?  Frontier has a management team that has been positioning it as another ULCC (not very successfully in my opinion) and continuing that direction leaves me wondering why would you bother?

ULCCs aren’t stimulating more air travel at this point.  Their robbing some low hanging fruit from other airlines on routes that have high fares.  ULCCs don’t attract the attention of the SuperLegacy airlines because they don’t put frequencies up against the SuperLegacy airlines on routes.

Only time will tell but it does look like Indigo Partners will become the new owners of Frontier.

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Congressmen want American Airlines Group to be given a break

June 4, 2013 on 12:43 pm | In Airline Seating, Mergers and Bankruptcy | 2 Comments

Congressmen have a well known fondness for Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.   They can work their 5 or 6 day week and catch a flight from this airport to home in short time.  The drive to Dulles can be very painful and particularly so towards the end of a week.

So Congress doesn’t want the merged airline of US Airways and American Airlines (aka American Airlines Group) to lose slots because of their merger.  The fear is that lost slots will result in lost routes to home states for Congressmen.

They aren’t wrong to fear this.  A divestiture of slots at Reagan National would almost certainly see them fall into the hand(s) of low cost carriers, at least in part. Low cost carriers won’t use those slots to fly to Albany, NY non-stop.

They will be used by a Southwest Airlines to fly to someplace like Austin, TX.  Or, perhaps, JetBlue to fly to Denver.

Should the new carrier be allowed to keep all its slots at Reagan National?  I’m sure everyone in the airline industry would shout out “Yes!”.  Personally, I think that certain airports with Reagan National being a perfect example should not be dominated by one airline.  Greater access by other airlines at that airport would be more appropriate.

Why?  Because it isn’t all about the people who live in Washington D.C.  It’s also about the people who live in other cities who have that need to travel to Washington D.C.  A little more competition and a little less domination at airports would be preferable.

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Reclining Seats

February 19, 2013 on 12:48 pm | In Airline Seating | No Comments

I saw a story on Slate.Com about a rant regarding reclining seats on aircraft.  It’s an issue near and dear to my heart.

Many airline industry enthusiasts defend the airlines when it comes to offering reclining seats.  This camp makes the specious argument that the seat is paid for so the passenger can do what they want.  This argument takes place on airliners owned by Ultra Low Cost Carriers such as Spirit Airlines as well as SuperLegacy airlines such as Delta.

Some can’t understand where the problem really came from because it wasn’t a complaint 20 or 30 years ago.  It really wasn’t.  Of course, 20 or 30 years ago the seat pitch in economy seating wasn’t an average of 31 inches either.   It was actually as much as 34 or 35 inches or roughly about what Economy Plus is being offered as today.

Another area where the argument gets lost is the different experiences that different people have with reclining seats.  Shorter people tend to not notice it nearly as much as taller people.  I’ve actually had women tell me that they find it more intrusive because they have breasts!  The truth is that even one inch can change a seat experience entirely.

What I find miserable on an American Airlines aircraft (31″ of seat pitch), I find perfectly acceptable on a Southwest Airlines aircraft (32″ of seat pitch).  Yes, one inch makes a big difference to many people.

Should seats in economy class be stopped from reclining?  I think they should.  We’ve made the seating area so restrictive at this point that people taken as a whole group will be more comfortable and less contentious on a flight with the recline feature disabled.  Leave it on Economy Plus seating but remove it from Economy seating.  In fact, design and buy seats with the feature never existing.  I suspect we’ll seat a weight savings that is significant enough that with 137 economy seats on a 737 with that feature removed will translate into real annual savings on fuel.

More importantly, we’ll see fewer conflicts and fewer bad attitudes.  Most of the conflicts I witness onboard an aircraft center on someone expressing their perceived constitutional right to recline a seat in the back of the airplane.  Reducing conflicts onboard an aircraft are very important, in my opinion.  Remove the flashpoints of contention and you potentially raise the perceived service experience.

One other thing:  You didn’t pay for the seat on the airplane.  In fact, you simply contracted with the airline to transport you from point A to point B.  The next time someone expresses their discomfort with your reclining your seat, show some polite consideration instead of being a snarling jerk.  It’s not the way you would have acted in virtually any other place so why act like that onboard an airplane?

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American Airlines announces lie flat seats

May 13, 2012 on 1:00 am | In Airline News, Airline Seating | No Comments

American Airlines announced lie flat seats for its business class sections on 777-200ERs and 767-300ERs.  The changes are to start in 2014 and I yawn.  Part of this announcement made it clear that about half the 767 fleet will be retired going forward and it is easy to assume that means there is the expectation that the 787 will be rolling into the fleet.  I’ll yawn again.

I think American Airlines made this announcement, in part, to distract from its rather ugly look that it has in its bankruptcy proceedings.   Those US Airways announcement really put a hit on them and their hearings in New York regarding breaking the union contracts made them look worse.  So why not announce new seats that won’t show up for several years?

Am I the only one who thinks of The Emperor’s New Clothes when watching American Airlines these days?

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All Aboard

August 19, 2011 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fees, Airline Seating | No Comments

There have been several stories over the past few months about airlines once again playing with how they board people on flights in the hopes of speeding turning around flights.  Remember that if you can turn a plane around in 30 minutes vs one hour, you can literally change the profitability of that aircraft from bad to good for any one day.

Some airlines board from the back to the front and that was fairly common for a long time.  Others set groups that include people spread around in the passenger area which has been found to be “speediest” and then there is the SWA cattle call which has no assigned seating but which does prioritze boarding by group and with fees.

The typical load for a 2 hour flight in the US has roughly 140 passengers or more and for airlines offering two classes of service, I have a suggestion.  Board first class first and last (2 groups) and let them choose which they prefer to enjoy.  But here is the revolutionary in me:

Board economy class without assigned seating for any flights 3 hours or less.  The random nature of choosing your seat in that model lends itself to “spreading” the process out and there is a reason why it provides a faster turnaround for Southwest Airlines.  Put those in economy class into 3 boarding groups and just let the chips fly where they may but offer the opportunity to be in the first group for a fee.

Finally, board economy class with assigned seating for flights over 3 hours in duration and randonmize each group in economy class seating. 

There.  I’ve started the fire, go ahead, fan the flames.

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MDW-DAL on Southwest

March 12, 2011 on 1:00 am | In Airline Seating, Airline Service, Airports, security, Travel Hints | 1 Comment

Returning to Dallas on Southwest from Chicago was a different experience.  First, we neglected to insist on avoiding Lakeshore Drive from downtown Chicago to Midway.  This found us sitting in stop and go traffic with our margin of safety time eroding quickly.  A quick tip and some encouragement to the taxi driver found us suddenly surging ahead when a hole opened and he got us there with time to spare. 

Again, I paid for Early Bird check-in on my flight.  This found me with a seat number of A group, position 37.  This is unsatisfying and I don’t believe the old “A” group went to 37.  What I’m saying is that A37 really translates into roughly B10 when you consider the number of people ahead of you and the fact that virtually every flight departing MDW originated somewhere else and already has passengers on it. I obtained a seat in the back on the aisle and that’s OK.

My security experience at MDW was unpleasant and I would say it was about average for a lot of busy airports.  In this case, I put the blame squarely on the staffers.  They were certainly moving in the Chicago Way.  One thing that found me objecting vocally were the wheelchairs.  While I stood in line with my belt and shoes in my hands, I saw 3 wheelchair bound people go to the front of the line where all three people got up, walked able bodied through the process and then sat down again. 

Sorry but being in a wheelchair does not entitle you to get in front of two dozen people waiting to move through.  I objected and the TSA offered that I was being unreasonable.  I offered that fair is fair and able bodied people in wheelchairs don’t get to go in front of me. Based on the reaction of passengers around me, public opinion was on my side.

Again, this airport is crowded and I walked the full lengths of both A and B concourses where I did not witness an empty Southwest gate.  I witnessed empty Delta gates and empty Porter Airlines gates but not one Southwest gate.  They are bursting at the seems and the gate areas don’t quite have enough space for full flights in my opinion. 

On this flight (via STL again), I witnessed person after person trying to stuff grossly overpacked and slightly oversized rollaboard cases into overhead bins.  This causes many delays when boarding the aircraft.  People move through the aisles slower, they put their things away slower and they fight for overhead bin space near their seat.  Flight attendants numbering just 3 per aircraft are not enough to keep this kind of herd flowing smoothly.  Even a few off duty Southwest staff pitched in to help and made little difference.

One staffer attempted to move my modest briefcase and light fleece jacket all the way to the back.  Uh, no, you aren’t going to penalize me for being efficient in favor of people who are apparently clueless about checking oversized bags.  My stuff took up, at best, 1/5 of the overhead bin.  I’m comfortable with that and it’s notable that just 2 fat bags were able to fit into the bin next to my stuff and the bin lid was only closed after a SWA FA essentially beat the bags down with the lid until it latched.

The flight departure was significantly delayed and I would attribute all of that to people boarding slowly, sitting down slowly, arguing for bin space instead of accepting a gate check of their bag and, last but not least, a 100% full flight.  These 100% full flights are exactly why SWA needs the Boeing 737-800 in its fleet.

Once every got seated, we did depart the gate fairly rapidly and experienced about a 10 minute taxi delay as well.  Once we took off, things settled down and the trip into STL was quick.  Taxiing into STL was efficient and deplaning went quickly.  However, once again, it was 100% full and, once again, we played baggage and seat games far longer than necessary.  This found the plane departing even later. 

Ultimately, I arrived in DAL about 40 minutes late.  That was unsatisfying because it wasn’t weather and it wasn’t the aircraft.  It was the sheer mass of people attempting to occupy too much space on that aircraft.   Southwest needs bigger gate areas to get people organized onto the aircraft and it might be time to consider some variation of assigned seating.  Too many people are jockeying for position on full aircraft and that delays things quite a bit.  Assigned seating would eliminate the jockeying and, I think, speed seating.  Unassigned seating on aircraft that are seeing 70% load factors is one thing but on aircraft that are as much as 89% load factor average, it becomes almost untenable.

All of that said, I still think the experience on both flights was as good or better than what was available to me via American Airlines, DFW and ORD airports.  And about $300 cheaper as well.  I still recommend Southwest but I also recommend that you use flights that are “no plane change” flights into and out of MDW or you may well risk making a connection.  That recommendation stands until Southwest improves its ontime rate at Midway.

One more hint:  Southwest doesn’t charge for checking your bags.  It has an excellent record when it comes to lost or misplaced baggage and it delivers checked bags to its carousels pretty quickly.  Save yourself trouble and just check your rollaboard.  You’ll find yourself able to maneuver on and off the airplane quicker.  You won’t have to fight for overhead bin space near you (and if you don’t get it near you, you’re going to be massively delayed in getting off that aircraft anyway.)  Don’t be vain and insist on taking it onboard when it is completely unnecessary on this airline.

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Dallas to Chicago

March 5, 2011 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fees, Airline Fleets, Airline Seating, Airline Service, Airports, Frequent Flier, Travel Hints | 4 Comments

Later today, I’m flying from Dallas to Chicago and this time I’m trying out Southwest Airlines’ service from Love Field to Midway Airport.  Both airports are the quintessential second airports for their respective cities and both have a strong Southwest history. 

Why this airline and these airports?  I’ve long advocated that you can enjoy a better, less expensive flight on Southwest that is essentially the same time elapsed “door to door” as a flight on a carrier such as American Airlines. 

So, I’ll be making a much quicker drive to Love Field airport where I’ll make a much quicker transit  through security to my gate.  I did pay the $10 Southwest Fee to early check in to improve my seating options (and it’s a fee that, for Southwest customers, does provide extra value).  My flight, however, is not non-stop.  I’ll be on a one-stop Southwest flight that pauses briefly in St. Louis.  Total programmed flight time?  2 hours, 55 minutes.

I paid $408 for this trip last Saturday compared to American Airlines fare for similar departure times on the same days of $659 and that does not include the fees for one checked bag that I’ll have to take with me.  All in, AA would have cost me (or, rather, my client) over $700. 

If I had taken AA, I would have had a much longer drive to DFW airport and a much more expensive one as well.  (One takes a tollway to DFW if one expects to get to DFW in a reasonable amount of time from where I live.)  The difference in time to get to each airport for me on a day where there are no traffic jams?  About 20 minutes less to access Love Field.

My Southwest flight time will be 2 hours, 55 minutes (if they’re on time) and a similar choice with American Airlines would be 2 hours, 30 minutes.  With the difference in drive time alone, I’ve just made up 20 minutes of a 25 minute difference.  When you account for the fact that I can arrive at Love Field with a bare minimum amount of time for passing through vs DFW airport where I would arrive about 15 minutes before my one hour deadline prior to flight time (because checking bags and passing through security at DFW can be easy or it can be real lengthy), I’ve just gained another 10 minutes. 

Since I”m arriving at Chicago Midway Airport, I’ll have a drive to my hotel in downtown Chicago that is nominally 6 miles shorter in distance and about 20 minutes quicker than if I arrived at Chicago O’Hare.  I’m now up by 30 minutes using Southwest.

At least in theory.

But let’s take a look at the contrasts in experiences I’m liable to enjoy between the two airlines.  On Southwest, I paid the $10 Early Bird Check-In fee so I’ll have a very high likelihood of obtaining a good, front of cabin seat on a 737-700.  It will be a fairly new aircraft and possibly a brand new aircraft.  It won’t be old and it won’t have old, worn out seats either.  I’ll enjoy 32″ to 33″ of seat pitch, most likely a friend flight attendant and no charge for a beverage.  Because of the nature of my trip, I have to check a bag and that comes free and on an airline with a good reputation for baggage handling and security.

If I had taken American Airlines on similar flight time, I would have enjoyed a 20+ year old MD-82.  Since I would have bought AA’s best economy price, I would have likely been at the back of the aircraft and sitting in old, worn out seating with 31″ of seat pitch.  My flight attendants would have most likely been cranky, older crew who have a reputation of taking out their job dissatisfaction on their customers.  (AA flight attendants can be good but in my experience the DFW and Chicago based crews are frequently hostile to customers.) 

My bag would be handled by an airline who had a less than positive reputation for baggage handling (and strangely I’ve had many bags delayed over the years on the DFW-ORD route) and only for a $25 fee each way.   If I had paid AA’s fee for priority boarding, I’d get earlier access to overhead bins but no options to sit in a preferred seat up front and an economy passenger on an AA MD-80 flight is going to have the options of “bad” and “worse” when it comes to seat assignments.

Savings in dollars:  About $300

Savings in time:  About 30 minutes door to door (if this works out as I expect).

What do I give up?  I don’t get frequent flier points on American Airlines.  Let me point out that my dollar savings alone just bought me a “free trip” if I wanted it.  Which would you rather have?  about 1600 frequent flier point or $300 in savings?  Which would you rather fly on?  An old MD-80 with old seats and a hostile flight crew or on a fairly new 737 with new seats and a friendly flight crew?

Once I complete this trip, I’ll write up what actually happened.

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Economy Plus Stays

February 21, 2011 on 1:00 am | In Airline Seating | No Comments

The New United aka ContiUnited has decided that Economy Plus seating will not only stay but it will be added to Continental aircraft.  And the only way that happened was through a heavy analysis so I suspect it’s been making the Old United a fair bit of coin over its life.

This is pure speculation on my part but I suspect that United will also adopt the BusinessFirst approach to the front of the cabin as well.  First class seating on an airliner is super expensive but also takes up an enormous amount of real estate.  Business class, as it is today with lie flat seats and other features, so closely approaches anyone’s idea of first class that it is not a let down to 99.9% of all passengers.  Continental has been very successful with that strategy and you can be sure that if Continental hasn’t found the need to have a fully first class section even on its international trips, then it would’t be missed by the New United.

I like Economy Plus seating both personally and from a business perspective.  As a tall person, it affords enough room to go from being uncomfortable for a 2+ hour trip to being quite manageable.  From a business perspective, it offers an upgrade path from economy both for the occasional traveler as well as for the frequent flier.  Don’t go looking for the new United to have lots of upgrade opportunity for those frequent fliers, however.  Fitting economy plus type seating to the Continental fleet will require removal of seats and the most likely section to give up that required space is in BusinessFirst. 

One thing that I do believe hurts economy plus is the model for purchasing flights online but not through the airline.  Purchasing an economy seat and then wanting to upgrade requires a person to visit an online site such as Expedia, buy the travel and then visit United in some form to buy that upgrade.  Wouldn’t it be nice to view your options completely before purchase and get it done?

That will require better flexibility from GDS systems and online travel agencies as well as the airlines and that argument is, in part, what is going on between AA and GDS/OTA companies.  AA wants more flexibility offered via its DirectConnect system.  The resistence isn’t to the flexibility so much as it is directed towards AA wanting to target customers directly through these systems and its wants that targeting done customer by customer.   For instance, a frequent flier who usually buys business class might not see his/her other options in the AA model but he/she might see a better than usual price in business class.  It’s about wanting more opportunity to manage the revenue by customer preference.

I vote for complete flexibilty and transparency to the purchase process and I want to see it in all one place.  And that’s a big reason why I want to see a third party putting together this content without necessarily being “managed” by the airline.

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Seating . . . again

February 15, 2011 on 1:00 am | In Airline News, Airline Seating | 1 Comment

Delta Airlines is going to introduce its own version of “premium economy” seating on its international flights.  In this case, it’s called Economy Comfort.  Users will get the same seat economy has but more leg room and some extra amenities such as no charge for drinks. 

Often when I consider what to write for this blog, I find myself wanting to be an advocate for the passenger as much as the airline geek as well.  The truth is, airline geeks can be a vicious bunch when it comes to understanding or embracing what the common passenger is experiencing. 

I think the common passenger experience on legacy and SuperLegacy airlines is appalling.  Sadly, so much of the improvements that would improve that passenger experience could come at little or no additional cost.  At the worst, they could come from legitimate fees designed to offer a better value proposition.

Seating is one of those value propositions that I think is horrific on most US airlines.  Seat pitch is terrible and we all know that it often is only reduced more and more.  We’ve even seen airlines introduce new “thinner” seats to to cram more seats onto an aircraft.  One consideration few ever gave to that proposition is that “thinner” really does equate to less comfortable as well.

When I consider how far we have come with respect to first and business class vs economy, I’m gravely disappointed.  It astonishes me that airlines will spend a fantastic amount of resources (and it really is fantastic) on what can amount to maybe 10 seats on a large widebody aircraft but will completely ignore challenging their seat supplier to supply a better seat for those in the economy section.

Make no mistake, while those in the front of the bus might represent real profit, it’s those in the back of the bus that make or break the airline when it comes to meeting its expenses.  Without those economy passengers, the airline would sink quickly.  Notice that all business class airlines have never thrived?

There have been tiny little improvements and changes over the years.  I actually like and enjoy the Airtran Recaro seats on their 737s, for instance.  But isn’t kind of shameful that Southwest Airlines offers what is arguably some of the best economy seating in the world?  Great leather seats with good seat pitch that, in many cases, exceeds legacy airlines pitch now and those same seats are not “thinner” or “harder”.  They’re comfortable.  Genuinely comfortable. 

But here’s the thing, it’s not that Southwest improved so much.  It’s that everyone actually got so much worse, really.

I”m not going to argue for more seat pitch.  If you’ve got 32″ of pitch, you win in my book.  If you’ve got 30″ of pitch or less, I consider you a chinchy airline with zero class.  In between, you’re lackluster and have no argument for purchase of a ticket except, possibly, price.  But I won’t even argue for more than 32″ of pitch. 

But don’t tell me that we can’t challenge seat designers to come up with a better seat that is cost effective to install, practical to maintain and which offers a better seating experience.  We can, we should and the airline who does will have a real and tangible value proposition to offer consumers.  Build it, advertise it and they will come.

In the meantime, I’ve no problem with charging for more seat pitch and a free drink (which I’ll point out wasn’t free but simply included in the increased price as in the days of old.)  I’ll often pay for such an amenity myself. 

However, let’s not get carried away lauding airlines for seat designs that, for the most part, reside solidly in 1970′s thinking.

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Does it matter if a commuter airline is identified?

December 15, 2010 on 1:00 am | In Airline Seating, Airline Service | 2 Comments

There are new laws requiring that airlines identify flights they are selling space on which aren’t actually their airline.  In other words, if an airline like Continental has a commuter airline operating flights on its behalf, it’s supposed to identify this fact on the first page showing the flight for booking. 

Does it matter?  Well, the original implication was about safety which I always thought silly.  Regional airlines really are not worse or better than mainline airlines when it comes to safety.  Or, rather, let’s say that in the United States, the difference is statistically insignificant.  Fly with confidence in that respect.

I think the greater implication is that people should know what they’re buying and I don’t disagree with that.  However, it has been possible to identify what you’re buying for a long time.  It’s just that it is difficult to “read” unless you learn some things about airlines.  In almost all cases, the aircraft type alone identifies a flight on a commuter airline. 

I think that consumers should be told what they’re getting but that isn’t going to be truly transparent until we classify things into groups.  For instance, if we classified all aircraft with 100 seats or less as “regional” aircraft, we would have some good assurance of the aircraft type.  Or would we?  An Embraer 170 has near 737-like qualities but just 70 seats.  However, an ERJ-145 has about 50 seats that are torture. 

I think things should be identifiable but I do also think that consumers need to educate themselves as well.  The problem is, there is no central location for consumers to educate themselves or use as reference material.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to look up a typical 757 or A320 and see what you can expect from such an aircraft versus a typical Dash 8 or Embraer 190?  Economy seating and its general pros and cons should be explained as should what to expect for a typical meal service or drink service on both mainline and “regional” routes. 

But I don’t think the airlines should have to spoon feed you the information so that everyone is 100% positively clear on what they’re getting into.  There is some burden on the consumer to at least make a cursory effort at understanding what you’re buying.  You would do the same thing for a $400 television so why can’t you do it for a $400 airplane ticket?

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Flying on a Saddle?

September 12, 2010 on 10:00 pm | In Airline Seating | 2 Comments

USA Today has THIS story on a new seat from Italian company Aviointeriors and it makes me cringe.  The seat system is considerably narrower in pitch and built so that a person sits more on top of it than into it.  Like you would sit in a saddle.  From the photos, it appears that the seat height is higher affording a longer “drop” for ones’ legs.  Call it a hybrid between a conventional seat and “standing room” concepts that have been bandied about.

Before anything else, let me say that I see a number of issues that might make it challenging to get such a seat certified.  How the passenger sits in a seat is a safety factor as is how they may be impacted by seats in front of them and behind them.  And accomodating that passenger so that the seat itself doesn’t injur them in a crash is also quite the challenge.  So, I don’t think this is something we’ll be seeing in the next few years. 

However, the fact that seat manufacturers are posing this design ideas kind of scares me.  One look at that seat and my knees cried a little moan of anguish.  I would find such a seat a very difficult thing to accept even on relatively short duration trips.  But clearly the seat manufacturers are hearing something from their potential customers if they’re going to spend time creating such concepts.

Low Cost Carriers not only drive ticket prices, they also drive aircraft design.  They purchase a large portion of those single aisle aircraft available and they want to pack in their passengers.  It would appear that seat manufacturers are starting to explore the idea of how pack in more passengers. 

Scrunching in even more humans on existing aircraft is a long way off, at best.  There are way too many regulatory hurdles at present but the market has driven even regulatory change in the past.  People are exploring ideas on how to fit more passengers on aircraft and the latest round of concepts look absolutely horrific to me.  But I might be horrified, in part, because I’m starting to see a glimmer of reality in these designs.

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Can you be all things to all people?

August 22, 2010 on 1:00 am | In Aircraft Development, Airline Seating, Airline Service | No Comments

Since I started writing this blog, I’ve come to one thought many times:  Airlines, at least most of them, work very hard these days at trying to be all things to all people.  The reason for this is that the airline business, particularly in the United States, is all about market share. 

In other words, to be viable as an airline, particularly a larger airline, you have to have a pretty significant chunk of market share for a set of routes.  Without that share, you won’t average a load factor that earns you a profit.  In fact, it isn’t just about market share of a particular segment.  If you dominate solely in leisure travel, you’ll struggle to survive much less make a profit.  Even Southwest Airlines has learned the value of the business traveler. 

But is that the right direction going forward?  Some variation of that is probably going to remain the truth for some time.  However, I do wonder if airlines aren’t harming themselves by trying too hard to be all things to all people. 

When it comes to domestic service, I do think it would be wise for more airlines to emulate United’s 3 class domestic service of First / Economy Plus / Economy.  Offering more value for more money is a strategy that plainly works although I also understand the perceived risk involved with that.  You can’t easily change the configuration of an aircraft to meet changing seasonal demand for a particular product.  This is an area where aircraft manufacturers could do some work.

However, at the international level, I think many US legacy airlines are trying too hard to be all things to all people.  I’ve always admired Continental’s approach with their BusinessFirst and Economy products.  BusinessFirst is business class and, let’s face it, that’s what is going to sell at the front of the aircraft day in and day out when compared to first class. I think the new ContiUnited (I must come up with a new moniker for that) would be wise to adopt the Continental model BusinessFirst and the United Economy Plus/Economy model.  It’s 3 classes of seating but really 2 classes of service.

Airlines seem to be overstressing themselves in other places as well when it comes to trying to appeal to everyone.  When you’re trying to market to the leisure crowd, the business crowd and the uber-rich crowd, your message gets muddy.  Can you identify who does what best for which crowd in objective or subjective terms? 

You have far less of a problem with that in other parts of the world.  If you want best price in Britain, you’re likely going to fly Ryanair or EasyJet.  If you want a more business oriented service, you’re likely going to pick British Airways.  It’s notable that BMI has more of an American approach and they don’t do so well.   Ryanair specializes in delivering the best price possible and has focused on that goal relentlessly.  British Airways specializes in service and image and focuses on that goal pretty well despite current problems and criticisms. 

We could stand to see a bit more focus out of our airlines.  Isn’t it interesting that when airlines set up “specialty” brands in-house, they usually did pretty well and only went away when the competition in that specialty went away?  I think there is a lesson there.  Does every flight need to meet every need?

I think the key to becoming more adept at specializing in customer needs, we need aircraft that are more easily configurable for particular demands.  It’s interesting to me that business class in Europe is often coach seating with the middle seat “blocked” from use.  Sometimes that same middle seat can be folded down into a “service” area for the aisle and window seats.  What if an airline or seat manufacturer came up with a product that allowed configuration of seat pitch in a manner of minutes with the addition of a row or two of seats in less than half an hour? 

There is nothing wrong with segmenting service for various needs and charging for it.  No objects to those pricing models.  The issue with “fees” is charging for something that had no charge until recently and acting like you are doing someone a favor.   Airlines could create a great deal more value in their product with more specialization towards particular customer needs and wants. 

After 40 years, I think coming up with seating that is configurable “on the fly” shouldn’t necessarily be quite the challenge it’s made out to be.  The industry should be able to meet this challenge and I think when they do, they may find a way to more reliable profitability.

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Front coach seat for another fee? No thanks.

August 20, 2010 on 1:00 am | In Airline Fees, Airline News, Airline Seating | No Comments

American Airlines is introducing a new fee.  This time, a fee from $19 to $39 can you get you a seat up front in coach including bulkhead seats and it will allow you “group 1″ boarding. 

Personally, I’m all for offering more varied product on aircraft.  That’s the one development among “debundling” that I am in favor of.  However, please offer me something of real value.  Frontier gets it.  United gets it.  Airtran gets it.  Even Southwest Airlines gets it. 

AA doesn’t get it.  A seat that has no more pitch or other benefits except that it is “up front” and I can potentially board earlier (and sit in an uncomfortable seat longer before take-off) isn’t more value.  If the seat comfort isn’t going to change, do I really care if it’s up front or in the back?  Well, maybe I do if I’m on a cranky old MD-80.  Does it afford me more opportunity for overhead space?  No, not really.  Despite reports to the contrary, it’s just not that hard to find overhead space.  Sure, the bins are more crowded but you can still access them. 

If anything, it’s the jokers who put their luggage up front and then take their seat in back that annoy me.

But I’ll gladly pay for more seat pitch and a generally more comfortable seat.  I’d gladly pay $20 / segment to gain 2 more inches of pitch alone.  And I can already get that on an airline of my choice in most cases.  For the prices AA is offering for this “service” you can more often than not get an Airtran business class upgrade.  You can get more seat pitch and more service on Frontier.  You can get more seat space on jetBlue.  Southwest Airlines’ fee for priority boarding affords me a real opportunity to choose one of the best seats in a 737 for a cheaper price and you can bet I’ll have bin space on the SWA flight no matter what since they aren’t fools and charge exorbitant fees for baggage checking.

Perhaps this might have some appeal to a business traveler but I don’t think such a fee is going to be reimbursed as an expense.  That certainly wouldn’t fly at my company, a major aerospace and defense firm. 

How about a $25 fee that A) gets you a exit aisle seat and B) *guarantees* your checked luggage arrives with you?  That might be particularly attractive to AA flyers.

At the end of the day, for any traveler except the most extravagant, it’s money that can be better spent elsewhere.  And if you are that extravagant, you’re probably getting an upgrade to first class anyway.

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Southwet Seat Pitch

January 21, 2010 on 8:00 am | In Airline History, Airline Seating | 1 Comment

Southwest Airlines’ blog, Nuts About Southwest, had a post about their cabin interiors which you can view HERE

 

If you think aircraft seat pitch hasn’t changed over the years, take a look at their photos.  Particularly the first two photos of interiors.  The seat pitch is dramatically more generous than the last two photos.  The seat pitch shown in the first photo would, at a guess, exceed that of United’s Economy Plus on most aircraft.

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Frontier Begins New Pricing Model

December 18, 2008 on 2:16 pm | In Airline News, Airline Seating, Airline Service | No Comments

The Today in the Sky Blog is reporting that Frontier has rolled out a new pricing model on their website today.   The airline is an all coach service but now they are differentiating that service with the designations “Economy” (primarily a Southwest Airlines emulation but you pay for your luggage), Classic ( a reserved seat and DirecTV and no luggage fees) and Classic Plus (Classic with a snack).  There are other benefits and restrictions with each class.

 

While I do believe that product differentiation is the way to go for airlines in the future, I’m not sure this is differentiated enough to offer a customer a choice.  Yes, service and amenities grow as you pay more and that’s good but look at the Today in the Sky’s story and examine the pricing.  I’m not sure you are getting enough differentiation for the price differences charged. 

 

A coach passenger is buying on price, primarily and to make the product differentiated enough to entice the passenger into a higher price requires something substantive.  Is it DirecTV and a snack?  I suspect not.  I suspect that DirecTV is worth about $10 to the passenger and a snack is worth maybe $8.00.   Free checked baggage?  Well, for Frontier that might be a mistake since Southwest, their major competitor, already offers free checked baggage.  They don’t offer more legroom but their other major competitor, United Airlines, does and for a price differentiation that really might be a better deal.

 

 

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Embraer Airline Seating

December 1, 2008 on 8:39 am | In Airline News, Airline Seating | No Comments

Runway Girl is reporting today on Embraer’s new slimline seat they are planning to install in the E-170/190 jets.   The new seat will either allow airlines to increase knee to seatback distance for more comfort or maintain the existing configuration and add more seats. 

 

In short haul markets such as Europe, it will likely mean increased seating density with some E-jets likely having as much as 118 seats.  However, in the United States, it probably will mean increased seat comfort as most airlines are using these aircraft for long stages rather than high density short haul routes.  The longer these planes fly, the less weight they can carry.

 

 

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All In An Airline Seat

November 16, 2008 on 6:06 pm | In Airline Seating | 1 Comment

The current economic climate doesn’t speak well for airlines who depend upon business travelers to meet their expenses on a flight.  For the past several years, airlines have been introducing airline seating that specifically caters to the business traveler and, quite frankly, a product that meets or exceeds anything that represented First Class even in the 1990′s. 

 

The airlines are always faced with a difficult set of priorities to balance.  On the one hand, catering to the business traveler is essential because they do pay for a good portion of each flight and they must compete for those travelers very aggressively.  On the other hand, filling those last 100+ economy seats is also essential because that is the difference between profit and loss.   Typically, an airline will woo the business traveler with comfort and the economy flyer with price.  In order to compete on price, that means reducing your costs per seat to the lowest possible and offering a ticket price that bests anyone else on a route.

 

Or does it?  In the late 1990′s, American Airlines began a program of more space in coach.  MD-80 aircraft were reconfigured to offer as much as 34″ of seat pitch and as someone who was flying a great deal at that time, I can confirm that it made a huge amount of difference.   Unfortunately, the post September 11th terrorist disaster forced American to reconsider its configuration and the aircraft were reconfigured back to a 31/32″ pitch.   But how many seats did that gain them?  Only about 9 seats.

 

The one thing airlines never seem to try to differentiate themselves on is seating.  While some airlines have tried an economy plus seating (offering about 34″ to 36″ of seat pitch), no one really advertises the advantage of more seat room.  It is never heavily marketed like many other airline qualities.   That is a lost opportunity.   I do not believe people would necessarily choose a flight on an airline on the basis of only price if they were fully aware of a more comfortable option at a minor extra cost.   Airlines such as United Airlines often only take the opportunity to tell a customer of these seats after they’ve already made a purchase and only as an upgrade. 

 

Offering an increased seat pitch and explaining its comfort and, possibly, better position in the aircraft would, I think, be an attractive offer. 

 

The question is how much extra do you have to price that seat per leg?   I suspect about $20 per flight segment would work.   Possibly as much as $30.  But why not offer it by the hour?  Would you pay $10 / hour for a better seat?  Chances are you would.  However, that upgrade must be presented BEFORE the purchase to be attractive on price and that upgrade must be described in what it offers the customer.  More leg room, a better position in the cabin which makes for easier entry and exit from the aircraft. 

 

More room does not necessarily have to mean fewer seats either.  I’ve written before about Delta’s adoption of the Thompson Cozy Suite seats on their 767 aircraft.  There are other options as well.  Airtran offers a Recaro aircraft seat on the Boeing 737 aircraft that is unparalleled currently as an economy seat.  Its design offers just a tiny bit more leg room and yet configures easily to the same 31/32″ seat pitch airlines want to use.  It provides a more conventionally thick seat cushion on the bottom and upper half while offering a better contoured lumbar area that while thinner, is much more comfortable and yet offers the passenger behind you that little bit of extra room.

 

Sicma Aero is concentrating its efforts on a more ergonomic seat but I question that direction because how do you create an ergonomic seat that feels comfortable to both the 5′ tall 100lbs woman and the 6′ 2″ tall, 270lbs man?  It requires adjustability and that quite likely is going to cause trouble both with maintenance and the customer who doesn’t understand how to adjust the seat.

 

Avio Interiors has taken an approach more like Recaro by offering a seat that is properly cushioned in the right points but sculpted to again offer that small but important extra space for legs. 

 

 Thompson Solutions offers both the Cozy Suite as well as a more conventional but ergonomic economy seat.  The key to their offering is a staggered or herringbone style layout that allows airlines a 15″ gain in capacity or greater width and seat pitch.  Since aircraft are generally limited by either their load or the maximum seating they are certificated for, Thompson’s solutions (no pun intended) allow an airline to offer a new seat that is competitively priced, less maintenance intensive and vastly more comfortable than a conventional seat.  The key obstacle here is that airlines are afraid of making the investment and facing customer rejection of a design that is admittedly fairly radical in appearance.  With Delta introducing this on their 767 aircraft, I suspect the airline’s fears will be reduced and there will be a push to find similar solutions for new fleets.

 

Weber Aircraft, based in the United States, is offering a much more conventional product that, unfortunately, seems pointed towards high density seating without any emphasis of comfort.  Make of that what you will.

 

While airlines will no doubt seek to maximize their loads on aircraft and match pricing from their competitors, it becomes increasingly obvious that market capture can be based on these new seating options provided that the airlines themselves will actually market their product.  People still want comfort and the success of a la carte pricing indicates that people will still pay for what they want. 

 

The challenge is in airlines changing their marketing model both on their own websites as well as through popular travel sites.  When a customer can make their choices from an a la carte menu and choices include better, more comfortable seating that is well described, airlines will both differentiate and sell their product better.  Airlines even have the chance to sell such a product as a business offering to companies that do understand the value of taking care of their employees but who have to now measure that against the often 4 times greater cost of a business class seat.

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Extra Charges and A La Carte Pricing

October 21, 2008 on 9:19 am | In Airline Seating, Airline Service | 2 Comments

Airlines have made many changes to their pricing models in the past year or two that have been annoyances or worse to passengers.   The Cranky Flier makes note of American Airlines moving to an a la carte pricing model such as what Air Canada uses in the near future and notes the benefit of choosing what you want up front and paying for it when you purchase a ticket instead of being nickel and dimed at each phase of traveling.

 

There has been a lot of discussion among many airline blogs and websites over these charges and quite frankly I’ve changed my mind in some respects.  I think the key is to identify what is an appropriate “extra” charge and what isn’t.   After some thought and reconsideration, I do not believe that food and soft drinks necessarily belong in the “must have” category.  To the contrary, it is difficult to find another mode of transportation where food and drink is complimentary.   So, go ahead and charge for it, I say.  As long as you have a convenient method for accepting payment, I’m sure it will work and, more importantly, be accepted in the long run.

 

Do pillows and blankets require an extra charge?  Frankly, I would do away with them on domestic trips all together.  Put them on international flights of 6 hours or more and, sure, go ahead and make them complimentary but get rid of those comforts on domestic trips.  If you haven’t dressed appropriately for traveling on an airplane, why should an airline provide you with a blanket?  For those of you traveling in halter tops or wearing sandals, let me suggest that that is a foolish way to dress for air travel anyway. 

 

Luggage is a tricky area.  I personally believe that at least one bag should be checked free.  At least for domestic travel.  Maybe 2 bags free for international travel.  I do think there is an implied agreement to tansport your baggage when you buy an airline ticket.  However, I do NOT think there is an implied agreement to transport your entire wardrobe.  Sorry but if you need to take a lot of things, then buy a full sized piece of luggage and pack it until it holds 49.99 lbs and then stop.  Or pay that fee. 

 

Since we’re talking about luggage, let’s talk about carry on pieces.  I typically travel with a briefcase and a medium sized roll-on piece of luggage.  I do not carry on the medium sized piece because it is slightly too large for the overhead bins so I do check it.   Frequently when I’ve arrived at an airport, I discover that I’m getting into a car/taxi/bus with people who carried their stuff aboard.  Why?  Because baggage does get delivered in a timely manner to most carousels and baggage rarely goes missing *if* you have packed and identified it appropriately.  Oh, be sure to tip that sky cap who checked your bag too. 

 

But you do not need to bring an overstuffed carry on into the airplane and then smack it into place with both hands as you crush my suit jacket that was laid carefully above.  Time for business travelers to get real.  Everyone *thinks* they are the world’s best packers and always insist that they “always” bring that on board.  I don’t think so.  If it didn’t fit into that MD-80 overhead today, it didn’t fit in there yesterday.   Who are you trying to kid?

 

So, if you are forced to gate check a bag that didn’t fit into the overhead compartment (again), then let the airlines charge you $25 for that one too.   After all, they have figured out how to run a credit card on board an airplane. 

 

What else?  Oh, yeah.  Seating.  Let’s have a variety of seat pitches and price those accordingly.  But instead of telling me about upon check in, pitch them to me on the travel websites as an upgrade.  Airlines should insist these travel websites should include upgrade pricing to an economy plus seating.  Why not charge $10 / hour / seat for 34″ or 36″ of seat pitch?  Would I pay such a fee?  Sure.  I’d probaby pay it if it was $15 / hour / seat.  Or I might pay it for the flight segment that I most wanted to relax in at the least. 

 

How about offering early or improved seat assignments for a fee?  Would I pay $10 to get a window or aisle seat 30 days in advance.  Without a doubt.  Would I pay $20 for such a chance?  In several instances, yes, I would. 

 

And, yes, let’s go ahead and get these charges taken care of before I arrive for check in.  Tally my choices online and present me with a total charge to pay when I pay for my ticket.  Let me pay, in advance, for a beverage or two on that flight from DFW to PDX and just note it on my boarding pass with a tear off area for the flight attendant to “collect” my fee.  Or just give them an advance manifest of customer names who have paid, in advance, their drink or food fees.

 

But don’t tell me that I have to pay $30 or $50 more to transport my suitcase.  That’s a joke.  A second one, sure.  Go ahead.  I’d probably pay it gladly anyway.  But not that first checked bag. 

 

 

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Airtran and Business Class Upgrades

October 21, 2008 on 9:19 am | In Airline News, Airline Seating, Airline Service | 1 Comment

USA Today’s Today in the Sky blog has a story about Airtran now offering upgrades to business class (space available of course) after a passenger has boarded the aircraft.  This is smart for a few reasons.  One, it’s one more opportunity to get that revenue.  Two, passengers may well be much more motivated to buy that uprade if they see the seat.  Three, passengers may well be much, much more motivated to buy that upgrade upon discovering that economy is full.

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