I learned a new industry term this week: “passenger burn”
While ultimately air travel is frustrating and uncomfortable for many — with tight legroom and packed planes — because that is what consumers are willing to pay for, and they make decisions based on price it turns out that there are limits.
Most people don’t really investigate the quality of airline service in advance. As I say, consumers generally make their purchase decisions based on price. Business travelers who aren’t price sensitive (their tickets are paid for by someone else) tend to buy based on non-stop flights and flight time. And brand loyal customers are often basing their choice on a frequent flyer program, especially elite benefits.
But actual inflight service, while playing a role in choice of frequent flyer program and bundle of benefits that one becomes loyal to, plays only a limited role. Or so the conventional wisdom goes at least.
Still, there are people who make the decision on price and regret it. And while they’ll still make decisions on price in the future, they will rule out certain airlines because the experience is so bad.
It’s called “passenger burn,” and it’s a cost-of-doing business for most Ultra Low Cost Carriers, or “ULCCs” in industry parlance.
“Passenger burn occurs when passengers use a ULCC service once and do not return as a repeat customer,” Jetlines, a new Canadian airline, told prospective investors last month. Jetlines plans to launch this summer with two aircraft based in Vancouver. It wants to be the Spirit Airlines, or EasyJet, of Canada.
This new low cost carrier chose 30 inches of pitch (major airline standard is 31 inches) rather than the 28 inches offered by Spirit is because they believe the pain threshold would chase away too many customers with tighter seating.
“In seating tests conducted by Jetlines with the new slim line and pre-reclined seats, a 6’3″ passenger will still have space between his/her knees and the seat ahead of him/her (about 2″),” the airline reported. “With the 28″ pitch seating, this same passenger would have his/her knees touching the seat in front of him/her, which Jetlines deems unacceptable in the Canadian market given the longer sector lengths.”
Apparently economy passengers will make choices based on inflight experience at certain margins of limited legroom and on long enough flights.
So there are limits to how bad the basic coach experience can get based on airline self-interest. This low cost carrier believes they can’t make things worse — even as bad as Spirit — without it backfiring.
And this is something even a low cost carrier believes.