How far will an airline go to prod you into paying extra for a “premium” economy or business-class seat?
Well, we already know these big seats translate into even bigger money for an airline, so why wouldn’t they pull out all the stops — and even manipulate a few facts — to turn a quick profit?
That’s what Matthew Leen would like to know. He’s been a high-level elite (gold or platinum) with Delta for the last 15 years, so he’s no stranger to flying. He’s also a tall guy, towering over most other passengers at 6′ 4”.
“What that means is I do not purchase a ticket on an airline unless I can guarantee an exit row, bulkhead or economy comfort seat at the time of purchase,” he says. “When searching for flights, the first thing I do is look at the seat map. If there are no available seats I can fit in for that flight, I book another flight — usually on another airline.”
Leen has watched over the years as Delta (and indeed, most other airlines) has taken steps to boost their seat revenue. We’ve basically gone from a free-for-all economy class section to one where only a fraction of the seats are available without having to pay an “up” charge.
Welcome to the beautiful, revenue-filled world of a-la-carte-air travel.
Recently, Leen clicked over to Delta.com and discovered that it had stopped showing exit row seat availability at the point of purchase.
“All exit rows show they are already taken – until you purchase your ticket – then they magically appear available,” he says. “I assume this is yet another we-hate-our-customers gimmick to trick them into paying for First Class or Economy Comfort.”
Now, let me pause for a reality check. If an airline, if any business, can figure out a way to lift its revenues by tweaking its display, then why not? As long as it earns more money, who cares what customers think?
Except that in this particular case, customers don’t think much of it, and are acting accordingly. And that is costing an airline like Delta real money.
He explained it all in a brief email to Delta:
So far this year I have flown exactly 5 segments on Delta simply because none of your flights show any available seats that I am willing to purchase.
Meanwhile, I have flown 25 segments so far this year on AA/US because they always have Exit Row and Economy Plus seats available for elite frequent flyers.
I thought you might be interested to know that whoever thought up this latest scam is hurting Delta’s bottom line.
And here’s where I get to put on my consumer advocate hat. Seriously? You’ve stopped showing the exit rows to boost sales of your big seats. What were you thinking? That all tall people are rich? Or were you just not thinking, Delta?
For Leen, the takeaway is simple: In your “zeal to concoct new ways to express your hatred for your best customers, you are driving them away,” he says.
He also asked Delta to respond to his email.
“They told me I had to call a reservations agent to get exit row seat availability every time I book a flight,” he says. “Ridiculous. And completely impractical considering how many flights I book.”
So how can a seating chart be scammy? When it doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation in order to further an airline’s profit goals. The seats are there, but Delta chooses to not show them so that passengers like Leen will have to book a more expensive seat.