Do Airlines Enjoy Causing Economy Passengers Pain?

Real, or The Onion?

[T]he nation’s airlines will begin installing awkwardly placed bumps in every airplane seatback this week because it reportedly brings great pleasure to them.

“Over the next four to six months, across our entire fleet, we’ll be rolling out seats with an irritating array of lumps and ridges to painfully jab our customers in the back, and we couldn’t be more delighted about it,” said United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek, speaking on behalf of all international, regional, and low-cost carriers, every one of whom admitted to deriving immense joy from watching their passengers squirm and search in vain for a tolerable position.

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Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. hmmm, comes from United, so it seems to fit with their recent trends. But I’m pretty sure it’s fake since Delta didn’t do it first 🙂

  2. Not going to lie, a part of me really wouldn’t put it past Jeff Smisek to say something like that…..

  3. Since they have already reduced the cushioning to essentially zero, adding lumps would be an improvement.

  4. Jeff Smisek was misquoted – he actually said this would only be rolled out in economy seats and that passengers will have the opportunity to upgrade to business class during the flight by paying an additional fee. This was in response to Delta announcing a new low fare class where passengers bring aboard their own folding chairs.

  5. Always truth in comedy, right? 🙂 On a serious note, while the premise of the satire here is ridiculous I think they’re making the comfort level of economy seating appropriate for their business model. I have often heard Peter Greenberg say that you can sell out your business/1st class and run the rest of the flight empty and make money. Conversely, you could sell out economy and run an empty business/1st class and would lose money. And I have no doubts that it’s true (Generally, and on international flights). So, economy can’t be too comfortable or there’d be less incentive to buy up.

  6. Well, if you want to upsell people out of economy, you have to make economy miserable enough to make an upsell valuable…

  7. @Cory – I think Greenberg is way stretching the economics of coach vs. premium cabins. Airlines absolutely need both on the vast majority of routes. If they could make money flying only premium passengers, they wouldn’t need to fly with a empty coach cabin – they could fly an all-premium configuration, which exists on a few routes. But in the vast majority of cases they need to fill seats both up front and in the back to make a route profitable and therefore viable.

  8. No way, UA couldn’t have said that since DL has not come up yet with this great idea! 🙂

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