Seat assignments used to be free. That’s still true if you show up at the airport without one. You have to sit somewhere! But if you care about where you sit, airlines may only make a limited number of seats available for free to most passengers (if any at all).
- People care about where they sit
- Some seats are better than others
- And there are a limited number of those
- So seat assignments have value
For years airlines ‘gave away this value for free’ to customers. That’s no longer true. And the tax code encourages airlines to charge for seats, too. That’s because base airfare for domestic flights is taxed at 7.5%, while fees aren’t covered by this excise tax. Airlines have an incentive to move money from the fare into fees.
Some third parties have come up with ways to take the idea of ‘seat assignments have value’ even further, building dating apps. People might theoretically pay for a seat assignment next to someone with shared interests that’s open to dates. There was AirDates, Wingman and several more. Fee king easyJet even tried its hand.
But a lot less has been tried at capturing value in the business space. During the Great Recession British Airways gave away tickets (they had a lot of empty seats) to highlight the role that meeting people inflight plays in building business opportunities as well as traveling to develop relationships.
Maybe with managed business travel down opportunities are more limited than they were before the pandemic, but it’s still significant. (And important players in business also travel for leisure)
Twitter’s Strip Mall Guy sees an opportunity:
Airline booking option where you pay extra to sit next to an expert in a topic you’re interested in.
They’re on the flight anyway, and opt-in to getting paid to sit next to you to answer your questions.
— StripMallGuy (@realEstateTrent) December 14, 2023
Right now passengers gain the benefit from whomever they’re sitting next to, but the opportunities are far from optimized. And passengers are the ones gaining all of the benefit – just like when passengers used to gain all of the (extra legroom) benefits from being assigned to an exit row and once airlines started charging that value began to be split.
- How valuable would it be to sit next to the CEO of a company you’re trying to pitch?
- Or the most knowledgeable person in your industry?
How much would you pay to sit next to someone like that? How much would they demand in exchange for mentoring you or listening to your pitch instead of watching The Big Bang Theory?
And since the airline already has the customers and suppliers on both ends of this two-sided market, how much could the airline make as a middleman? A percentage of sales?
Just another one of my whacky revenue-raising ideas that might make travel better and pad airline bottom lines, like that airlines should sell food in domestic first class.