I bid on a business-class seat, but I only got half of one

Lukas Rebec / Shutterstock.com

When John Banister’s bid for an upgrade is successful, he thinks he’ll be flying home in style. He’s half right.

Question: Aer Lingus has a lottery system for upgrading selected passengers to business class. On a recent flight from Dublin to San Francisco, the airline accepted my $710 bid to upgrade.
Aer Lingus’ business-class seats promise “luxurious seating” and the ability to “travel in comfort,” but that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, the seat controls were not operational for the entire flight.

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There was no audio, and the seat was stuck in the upright position.

Needless to say, the flight was miserable. The flight attendants were apologetic, and the cabin supervisor even wrote me a note documenting the seat trouble.

I contacted Aer Lingus customer service by email and received a form letter with an offer for a $500 travel voucher in response. I replied by email that this was not acceptable. I have sent several follow-up emails, some addressed to senior people at the airline, but I’ve received no response from anyone.

At a minimum, Aer Lingus should refund my $710. Thank you for any help you can provide. — John Banister, Lafayette, Calif.

Answer: I’m not sure if I agree that you deserved a full refund. After all, the ability to recline your seat and use the in-flight entertainment was only part of the flight experience in business class. But I think Aer Lingus should have given you the courtesy of a response, even if it was to say “no.”

I love the idea of a lottery system to upgrade, because in a sense, most of the passengers who sit in the front of the plane are playing the lottery. Try to score an upgrade using your hard-earned frequent flier miles, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Aer Lingus’ lottery is truth in advertising.

It should be unnecessary, though. Every passenger should have adequate legroom on an aircraft. The plane you were flying on, an Airbus A330, has economy-class seats with between 31 and 32 inches of legroom and 17 inches of width. For most Americans, that’s hardly enough for an 11-hour flight, so it’s no surprise that passengers are clamoring for a little more room and are willing to bid $710 for a chance at more comfort.

The solution? Give people in the back of the aircraft a humane amount of room. And please don’t tell them they asked for these tiny seats when they booked an inexpensive airfare. I’ve never heard a passenger demand less space on a plane, and I’m willing to bet no airline has, either.

You did the right thing by trying to address the problem in real time and getting a note from the cabin supervisor that documented your seat troubles. Following up on the airline’s $500 voucher offer by email was smart — that creates a paper trail that you can follow, if necessary. The problem with a voucher, of course, is that you have to fly on Aer Lingus again. Given your last experience, you might not want to do that.

I contacted the airline on your behalf to find out if it could answer your email. In response, it apologized and refunded your entire airfare, an unexpectedly generous resolution.

Did Aer Lingus offer John Banister too much compensation?

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132 thoughts on “I bid on a business-class seat, but I only got half of one

  1. An entire refund is technically more then what would be fair, but there is nothing wrong with generosity either.

    Since we are both repeating ourselves, YES travelers did ask for less leg room when they buy the cheapest seats possible. Customers vote with their cash, that’s the language airlines understand. Saying “we want more for less” might as well be whispers on the wind. You will not get first class for economy money.

    1. I agree. It’s impossible to offer too much. That’s the vendor’s choice.

      And yes, when we vote with out wallets we are staying what we want. It’s analogous to yesterday’s discussion about not staying at properties which charge resort fees, early check-in and other junk fees. By making a choice, we are stating our preference, even if we never open our mouths.

      1. This is useful, but not sufficient to eliminate bad business practices, unfortunately, because such companies rely upon rubes who don’t read the fine print or never notice the junk fees because they don’t apply to them (they never bothered with early check in.)

        Most attorneys I know are big fans of Monty Python. I’m reminded of the skit where the food safety inspector finds a confectionary’s products to be misleadingly labeled: “Spring Surprise. You take a bite and then steel springs pop into your cheeks!” The regulator wanted a big warning label: “This chocolate contains larch vomit” on the box. “Our sales would plummet!” complained the chocolateer.

        The secret to junk fees, as attorney’s know :-), is the fine print. Lots of different fees makes the disclosures that much less likely to be read. Having one big fee is not as good as having lots of little ones that are likely to be overlooked.

    2. I don’t agree that we asked for less legroom. The vast majority of airlines have reduced seat pitch to torturous dimensions and very often customers have little to no choice to find another airline that services the route they need in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable price.

      I didn’t ask for less leg room because my choices to fly to X from Y all have 0-1 stops over a day with little leg room, or I could choose a flight with more leg room, but have 2-3 stops that run over a day’s travel, or does only have 0-1 stops, but I have to drive 3-4 hours to that airport.

      I don’t agree that I ‘asked for less legroom’ because I opted to pay say $300 for an economy ticket rather than $3,000 for first class, when I’d be more than willing to pay $400 for a decent leg room seat, if one was available (and they aren’t always offered on all planes, or are in such limited capacity that they get scooped up before me – on the flights I’m available to take).

      I doubt any airline ever gave a survey that asked if you would be willing to sit in a smaller seat/pitch in exchange for a cheaper ticket. They just decided on their own to reduce seat size/pitch, and then advertised “hey, we reduced our fares” but they didn’t tell you what you had to give up for that reduced fare.

      1. Sure we did. We did that when we told the carrier in no uncertain terms, we want the cheapest fare. Give us the cheapest fare and we will buy your ticket. When we made a crappy airline like Spirit the most profitable in the US. When we refuse to pay $1.00 extra for more legroom. When any airlines which offers a better product is not rewarded in the market place. That’s the crappy thing that we did.

        It’s why Walmart is the country’s largest retailer.

        The simple truth is that airlines have powerful computers with sophisticated software and smart people whose sole purpose is to figure out what customers are willing to pay for. We b*tch and moan, but when we open our wallets we’re saying what we really want and our wallets are speaking volumes.

        And truthfully, I wish we were willing to pay more.

        1. I’d truly like to see where the difference of adequate leg room v. very little leg room is $1. The thing is, these days in order to get a seat with adequate leg room, you have to pay usually significantly more. Yes, sometimes its a matter of finding the right airline with larger seats, but many times, that isn’t an option either.

          Given that airlines have reduced their flights so much in order to make every flight full, your choices of flights that might offer larger seats (whether in whole or in part) may be a lot less. More than half the time, I have to choose a flight based on the timing of the flight with my schedule, rather than whether I may have to suffer with less leg room or not during the flight. I didn’t “choose” to fly with less leg room, I chose the flight that fits my schedule, the airline choose to reduce the leg room.

          Certainly when I do have schedule flexibility, I do my best to choose airlines with more legroom overall (so I don’t have to play seat roulette or worry about other factors that affect whether I get a roomier seat area or not). I do agree that sometimes price is a factor. I will rarely pay a large mark-up for a short flight, or if the mark-up times 4 (for my family) is too far out of budget (someday, my kids will be old enough that I can let them sit alone, but not yet). But if more leg room across the board resulted in a less than $100 mark-up across the board, I’d willingly pay that every time.

          1. An arbitrary LAX-LAS flight chosen had a difference of $5 between comparable flights with Spirit being the cheapest. I can’t speak to the peculiarities of your flight needs and choices. And I’m sure you appreciate that your personal preference (or mine for that matter) aren’t relevant to the discussion, but rather what people do in general, rather than one person.

            Consider that on the arbitrary flight that I chose, People are willing to give up 3-4 inches of legroom to save $5. That $1.25 an inch.

            That’s is the value that those folks place on an inch of legroom on that flight $1.25. Not a very high value

        2. I don’t recall that conversation. We are presented with a very cramped situation or an overpriced business class. When something like United Plus is available, I “vote” for that.

          Most people I know would be willing to pay a reasonable amount more than have cramped seats.

          I live in a city of 1.2 million people and actually the food retailer that has the largest share is one of the higher priced ones because sensible people DO want some quality for their money.

          1. Spirit airlines with 28″ seat pitch was the outcome of that conversation.

            Your food retailer proves my point perfectly. It has aligned its products with what customer are willing to pay and is rewarded accordingly with the largest market share.

            By the same token, the airlines which align their products and prices will be rewarded. Unfortunately, the airlines with great load factors and the highest profitability are Spirit and Allegiant, the crappy airlines. Sad but true.

            And of course, Jet blue will be reducing its seat pitch to better align itself with what passengers are willing to pay in order to achieve better profitability.

            Economy minus here we come.

      2. I would bet you a Starbucks coffee that they did marketing polls on what was more important price or seat comfort and just like the poll that Tony posted, a sizable number choose price.

        1. Nah. When you ask customers if they are willing to pay for better service, more comfort, etc. in polls, most of ’em answer yes.

          It’s only when it comes to wallet-opening time that they suddenly discover that perhaps that standard coach seat isn’t “torture” at all.

        2. I think if you polled the entire universe of flyers it’d be overwhelmingly in favor of price. If you’re 6’6″, fly all the time, are made of money (or fly on somebody else’s dime), or are going on a long haul flight then seat comfort will win out. But most people only fly occasionally on relatively short trips and thus would trade a few luxuries for saving a few bucks.

      3. Yes you did. As I wrote before more legroom is available in first class you opted NOT to buy that. Would you expect a dealership to sell you a Lamborghini for the price of a Honda? Just because what you want isn’t available at the price your willing to pay does not not “entitle you to the premium product. Pay up or get out of line, other people want those seats.

        1. Being willing to pay is NOT the same as having ability to pay. Some of us buy the cheap seats because if we didn’t we would not be able to fly anywhere!

          1. So everyone should have a right to a luxury goods and services because of some everyones special o everyones equal. You got what you could afford, and your not entitled to better just because someone else can afford it.

          2. That is NOT what I said or meant. But you seem to belittle those of us who accept economy (with or without complaint) so therefore have no right to complain about anything. Or have I been misinterpreting your frequent comments all this time? I am aware what I should expect & am grateful for the opportunity to see the world. Being wealthy or not should not be the deciding factor . I do not envy or expect what those who have the bucks can afford. Anymore than I envy those who are better looking than me. Enough said. I await your reply. I fear that this issue is like discussing politics. There is no middle of the road.

        2. More like the usual choice is between a Lamborghini and a Yugo. I’d be more than willing to pay for the Honda seat, if there was one available, but that isn’t always available, and I have to choose Yugo or Lamborghini. I can’t afford Lamborghini, I could afford Honda, if it was available. I’d be willing to pay for Honda all the time (and I bet many passengers would), but the airlines decided to instead fit in 100 Yugos instead of 80 Hondas.

          1. That’s the airlines prerogative and business model. You don’t have a right or entitlement to a Honda, just because you claim your willing to pay for it if it was. “We have Honda money” means nothing as the airline has said “No, it’s Lamborghini’s or Yugo’s”.

          2. Fine, I don’t have the “right or entitlement” to a Honda because I’m willing to pay for it. But don’t tell me that I “chose” the Yugo over the Honda when the Yugo was my only choice (because to me, and the vast majority of travelers, Lamborghini is not).

          3. True. but there aren’t many other ways to cross an ocean, or cross the country in a short amount of time, when I want to visit family. I’ve also had to fly for work purposes and while my company will pay for some minor seat upgrades, it certainly won’t pay for first class.

          4. That’s your choice to visit your family. It’s your companies choice to stick you in steerage, and it’s your choice whether to upgrade on your own dime. what I’m hearing is “entitlement”.

          5. Boy you don’t listen. Its hardly “MY CHOICE” when I can’t afford thousands of dollars for a first-class flight, but can only afford a couple hundred. Its my situation, sure, but not necessarily “my choice.” And before you go on with it being against “my choice” to work for my particular employer, I think you’re getting a little far afield, because really, its the employer who chose to hire me (because again, in this current time, there’s not much “choice” for employees – the vast majority of us take the job we can get) and really, how many people are able to “choose” which employer to work for based on whether said employer will decide to fly the employee in economy or business/first class?

            Same with visiting family. its not a “choice” as to which family you get born into and then where said family might decide to move to, and then they are too ill to come visit you and really if you want to see your parents before they die, you have to go to them. So stop it with it being “my choice” because the airlines give me “no choice” except paying $10,000 for a ticket or $500.

          6. It is your choice, you choose to remain employed with this employer. Does someone have a gun to your head? Are you a slave, do you have chains around your ankles?

            You can not choose your family, but you choose to visit them, or you choose to allow them to visit you, you can say no. You can choose to move away from those family members. You can choose not to associate with them. You choose to visit your parents in their old age.

            All of those are choices, and choices you made.

    3. I agree that price is the driving factor for most airline travelers, but I also think information that would help the traveling public decide exactly what they want is missing from the purchasing process, particularly for infrequent travelers. What I mean is that, to someone who flies once or twice a year, airlines and airline seats are interchangeable in their minds, so that if Delta, American and United all offer direct service to their destination, they’ll pick the cheapest one. I suspect that this is why those surveyed on the subject name price as their chief consideration. It’s also why, in these comments on stories about reduced seat pitch and unbundling, there’s always one that says something like, “My wife and I flew to a wedding, and the seat was tiny and the flight attendants were rude, so I’ll never fly Delta again.” They don’t realize that ALL airlines are like this. People shop on OTAs to compare flights, and if one airline were to increase seat width and pitch and charge more, how would the average traveler know? If I could pick a government intervention that I believe would improve airline service, it would be a requirement to list – alongside the prices – seat width, pitch, and all included services. It would be nice to be able to compare those things at the same time as the prices.

      1. How is the “information” missing? Is there really any modern traveler that doesn’t understand what the conditions are in economy> IS there anyone that really believes they should wear a shirt and tie, and expect fillet and lobster in coach?

        Let me provide you the service, economy flying is the MINIMUM (maybe a beverage) that the airlines can legally get away with providing. If aNAYONE expects more than that they are either lucky or delusional.

  2. I too think it was far more than what I would have expected, or as a dis-interested 3rd party would call “fair”… That said, I would have been more comfortable with their initial offer being a travel credit of $500 *or* a cash (or credit to their credit card used) of $355 – of exactly half of what was paid for the upgrade. I think an offer of these two would have been more than fair.

    I also suspect – and this is only what I think as I’m not privy to the full conversation and ensuing chain of communications – that the intervention of an advocate on the passengers side also impacted the offer and subsequent actions by the carrier.

  3. The constant harping about lack of legroom is getting a bit dull.

    I would guess that the vast majority of passengers are on aircraft with some type of Economy Plus seating. (Yes, I know that RJs and some non-legacy carriers don’t offer Economy Plus, but I don’t think they represent the bulk of daily passenger miles). Whenever you book, you’re given the opportunity to upgrade for a fee. If you value comfort over money, you choose the upgrade. If you value money over comfort, you don’t choose the upgrade. What could be simpler?

    Yes, not everyone can spend the money. But in my experience (mostly cross-country hub-to-hub), airfares are much lower on an inflation-adjusted basis than they were in the “good old days”. (My very first flight was on UA from EWR-SFO in 1981. It was $259, which translates to about $700 today. Next month, I’m traveling cross-country on Delta. With the upgrade and a baggage fee, it comes to about $590).

    1. I upgrade to Economy Plus whenever it’s available…And it’s usually not. It’s sold out before I even buy my ticket.

        1. When I travel for business, I book as soon as I know I’m going. Sometimes that’s well in advance, and sometimes it’s a few days before. I don’t get to choose.

          1. That’s very strange to me. When I travel, even with one day’s notice, I rarely find that all premium seats are full unless I have the misfortune of flying Monday morning, Friday night, or Sunday night.

          2. It probably depends on the market. I typically fly a route that is frequented by other business travelers (most of whom have some kind of elite status, as evidenced by the Zone boarding lines), so Economy Plus fills up quickly. My point is that I’m willing to pay a little extra to be comfortable, but oftentimes I’m not even given the option. The same is true for small commuter planes–there’s no choice there.

          3. That;s the funny thing. I fly on a heavy business traveler commuter route SFO-LAX. During the week its all business travelers. I would guess its the number of carriers. That route is laden with carriers.

          4. Happened to me on 2 out of 4 legs on Dec 2 and 9th as well as on 12th.
            Sold out.
            Seems like customers ARE voting for more legroom and the airlines are not providing it.

          5. …Or at least on half of your flights. I’m sure you can appreciate that it’s not what happens on a single flight but rather flights in general.

            If economy plus is routinely sold out, the airlines will add more seats until equilibrium is achieved.

          6. That’s very sad to hear and has no relevance to the airlines or even the basis of free market economics. You are entitled to whats available not what WAS available yesterday.

    2. “The constant harping about lack of legroom is getting a bit dull.”

      Chris goes through phases, usually cycling among the TSA, codesharing, fees, and legroom.

      I wonder if he goes to bed at night dreaming of the ideal case that checks every box (did I miss any?):

      “Dear Chris,

      I’m [unemployed/elderly/veteran/blind/deaf/11-toed/student/Elbonian/Stubbed Toe Survivor] on a fixed income that bought a ticket using [Priceline/HotWire/DirtCheapSketchyTickets] so I could visit my [uncle/summer camp roommate/7th cousin five times removed] to support them during their [sickness/birth/marriage/divorce/bad cold/hiccups/death]. I was sold a ticket on Singapore Airlines, but was code-shared onto [Spirit/Allegiant/RyanAir/SardineCan] airlines.

      I was rushed getting to the airport because I deleted my ticket confirmation and guessed at the time, and then left only 30 minutes before when I thought my flight was. Then, on the way to the airport in my rental car, I got [a flat tire after carefully driving over a bed of nails/ to arguing over $2,000 paint chip/stuck at an unmarked stealth toll plaza.] After getting to the terminal, the ticket agent rudely charged me lots of money to check my [steamer trunk filled with gold bricks/mud-spattered tandem bicycle/full-grown German Shephard in a cardboard box/20 pound half-melted toejam collection loosely wrapped in wax paper].

      It took me FOREVER to make it through the TSA line, because I went to the wrong person for security screening. I had read in one of Charlie’s columns that TSA agents have uniforms that look like stormtoopers, and I couldn’t figure out why the guy in a [Star Wars/Nazi] costume wouldn’t let me through security. (I see what they mean about the uniforms being so similar to the TSA’s! How could anybody reasonably be expected to tell them apart?)

      At the gate, thirty seconds before scheduled departure, the Meany McMeany Pants gate agent wouldn’t let me on board the aircraft! The nerve! I was re-scheduled onto a flight leaving 30 minutes later. This was unacceptable because I was going to miss five minutes of free snacks at my hotel, but what can you do?

      Once I got to the gate, the Meany McMeany Pants agent tried to tell me I couldn’t take my [moose head trophy/200 lb duffel bag/tuba/scuba gear] in my carry-on luggage! I gate checked, and THEN was told I couldn’t take aboard my Emotional Support [Incontinent French Poodle/Free-Range Parakeet/Earthworm Collection/Wild Boar]. I threatened to sue for my rights to have any member of the animal kingdom brought aboard the aircraft and the agent relented.

      On-board, the flight attendant REFUSED to let me install my electroshock device attached to the recline button of the seat in front of me! I paid for every last millimeter of legroom, and by golly I was going to get it. It’s my constitutional right to stop other passengers from claiming it by Any Means Necessary… isn’t that what Stand Your Ground laws are all about? My seat was so cramped! Instead of stretching my legs completely flat, I had to sit up for the ENTIRE 45 minute flight! Surely this violates treaties against torture.

      I asked for some Red Wine, and they attempted to serve me something you can buy at a mere Grocery Store. Anybody who’s anybody knows that at least they should be serving something at least as good as Chateau de Snoot ’67 if they want something at least barely drinkable. And they wanted FIVE DOLLARS for wine! I thought I was on Communist Airlines when they told me it wasn’t free!

      To make this letter brief, I won’t go into the sordid details on the rest of my trip… let me just say that they haven’t heard the last from me after the 1″ grey scuff on my white lambskin suitcase!

      I wrote them a complaint letter (kept it concise, at only 73 pages) and demanded they send me ten first-class tickets anywhere in the world on any airline, pay for my hotel stay and give me a free meal in the airport restaurant or I would see them at the Supreme Court. Would you believe that all I got back was an apology letter, a refund on my $82 fare, and a $200 future flight voucher? I [am emotionally crippled for life!/missed free snacks at the hotel!/need $100,000 because of the ‘savings’ I lost because I missed the meeting to be sold a membership in SuperMegaUltraTravelSavings Club!] Can you help?”

        1. Not everything… without blowing my entire morning, I was unable to work in the angle of the unmitigated horribleness experienced by every letter-writer on cruises. You know, the soup that is too hot, the pool that’s too cold, the water too wet, and the staff insufficiently servile.

      1. THAT WAS AMAZING AND TOTALLY MADE MY DAY. When Chris goes to the great big airport in the Sky I vote you to continue the legacy.

        1. If I ever start an advice or advocacy column, it’d be modeled after Cecil Adams and his “Straight Dope” trivia column. He routinely mocks the folks (deemed as coming from the “teeming millions”) that write in to him with utterly ridiculous/disturbing/stupid questions.

          Check out his website; it’s hilarious.

          1. Anyone who says there is no such thing as a stupid question doesn’t spend much time answering questions.

        1. Take what you got and be done with it. It isn’t earthshaking what you encountered and you did get a response. Yes, as a consumer I would want more in the personal touch, but in the corporate world, it just doesn’t always happen. We don’t have much nonstop European lift from SFO. EI’s fares are high, so not sure they will remain in this market.

    3. I’m 5’10” so basically average height and I have never had a real issue with legroom in terms of being able to stretch my legs out under the seat in front of me. (My own carry-on sometimes will get in my way but if I don’t have it under the seat I’m usually just fine.) The real inconvenience with tighter seats is in getting up and getting situated, particularly if you have a laptop or are trying to use the tray table extensively.

  4. “And please don’t tell them they asked for these tiny seats when they
    booked an inexpensive airfare. I’ve never heard a passenger demand less
    space on a plane, and I’m willing to bet no airline has, either.”

    Really? Why then, exactly, does Spirit, an airline with bone-crunching pitch, and PRIDE in customer-hostility even EXIST? They don’t cover a single route that doesn’t have competition, and they clearly have repeat customers.

    If I’m an airline executive (even one that doesn’t work for Spirit), that’s a clear indication to me that comfort and service isn’t nearly as important to some customers than they might note in surveys.

    Wallets speak louder than words.

    1. today. yougov. com/news/2014/10/21/economy-minus/
      Please imagine airlines offered an option to purchase a
      ticket for a seat with less legroom at a lower price. How likely or
      unlikely would you be to purchase such a ticket?

      1. Too bad there’s nothing about sample size or method but this pretty much refutes Chris’s idea that people want more leg room….

        1. Refutes? Not sure I would agree. You are looking at less than half. Adults, only 15% are very likely, 27% somewhat. That’s 42, so there’s 58% out there who voted otherwise.

          1. So…. 58% of the flying public are at a minimum (50/50) on if they would sacrifice seat comfort for price. How many of those do you would think would pay more for a more comfortable seat given that most have that option now and fail to take it.

          2. Whether one can take that option all depends on whether its available. A plane that offers the more comfortable seat still only has a limited number of those seats. Given that many airlines have reduced the number of flights they offer, if your choice is to fly out at 8:00 a.m. but with a smaller seat (because the larger ones are sold out), or if you wait until 8:00 p.m. you can get the larger seat, some people will have no choice but to accept the smaller seat if they need to get to their location before 5:00 p.m.

            Also have to consider parents flying with children. If the parent would like to have the more comfortable seat, but also wants to sit with their child, that parent must now fork over extra cash for two such comfortable seats, even if the child would have been just fine in the smaller seat. Increase that family size and now having to pay so much extra for the more comfortable seats becomes a much larger, perhaps too large, a purchase.

          3. So… In your world, the airlines have to increase the price of tickets across the board to account for the loss of seats (and seat revenue). Now the family that couldn’t afford to purchase the upgrade to econ + can’t afford to go.

            Is that where you really want this to go? Back to the point that the average family can’t afford to fly?

          4. Families fly, who cares. Leisure fairs are sold at cost. Business travelers are the ones that pay the bonuses.

          5. If 42% of a your market clearly wanted XYZ, you’d deliver it to them in a heartbeat. Especially if he remaining 58% are all over the place from Hell No to maybe, depends.

          6. Agreed. That’s why the 58% number remains meaningless and cannot be the basis of any analysis.

        2. Americans are extremely price sensitive when it comes to flying.

          Flight pricing is very important to 86% of Americans who have ever flown compared to checked luggage pricing (55%), direct flight routes (48%) and legroom (34%).

          42% of Americans who have flown said that they would be likely to purchase an “Economy Minus” ticket offering lower prices for reduced legroom. 15% said that they were very likely to purchase smaller cheaper seats. Women are more likely than men to consider downgrading to a smaller seat (47% compared to 37%) and Millennials (51%) are more likely than those aged 50+ (32%).

          Half of Americans who have flown (50%) do, however, say that lack of space is one of the things they dislike about flying, and 20% often or always check sites like SeatGuru or Seatplans for additional information about seating layout and sizing. This is slightly more common than checking websites for airline safety record (17%). 59% think that seating is already too small and should not be further reduced.

          1. The new 5 tier structure
            cnn. com/2014/12/09/travel/delta-creates-new-fare-classes/

            has Basic Economy and Main Cabin on the same cabin, I think.
            Not sure if Basic Economy gets smaller seat.

          2. Doesn’t. Just no changes and no PRE-ASSIGNED seats – you get them at the desk, and no choice as to where you sit, or with who. Has already been around a while, just not in all markets. Personally, I never book these, and explain to the clients why.

          3. When basic economy is a success, we will eventually see steerage, which will give you painted white line and a rope in the main cabin.

          4. That’s shows the disconnect between what they say they want (no further seat reductions) and what they are will to pay for. Despite Chris’s fervent wishes, business don’t give a rat’s *** about what customers want, but rather what they will pay for.

            We can around and around and around about leg room. But if people aren’t willing to pay for it then that’s on us.

          5. I’m sure they will get madder now that the local airlines won’t give any price decreases or rollbacks even if oil prices have dropped like 40% already.

          6. No different seats, just different ticket options. Cheaper, yes – but NO changes, NO pre-assigned seats.

          7. My take on that poll is – when thinking about hypothetical travel people are cost conscious. When they actually experience not being able to walk after sitting on the plane for hours, they decide maybe they don’t like it. Does that mean they would be willing to pay more the next time they travel? Who knows. It probably depends on whether they have the money at the time they travel to splurge on better seats.

            I don’t buy the “we are voting with our wallets” argument. It was made up by the airlines to justify cramming more people into their planes. Business travelers get what their employers purchase when they travel, unless they are very high level executives or are willing and able to use personal miles/funds to upgrade. Leisure travelers have limited ability to vote with their choices, given the lack of choices and tight vacation schedules for working people in this country. If you really want to take a vacation and it’s more than a few day’s drive, or you are traveling over water, you are going to fly rather than not go on vacation at all.

            So why is Spirit so successful? My theory – flying is miserable from a space standpoint in the U.S. no matter which airline you pick, unless you fly first class. So you might as well pay as little for your misery as possible.

          8. May I suggest that if your theory was true, why would American Airlines add 2 additional inches to its seats in an attempt to woe customers away from competitors and abandon it when customers refused to pay additional money for those extra 2 inches?

            Voting with wallets.

          9. 2 inches really means nothing, aside from gemstones no other commodity is so finely priced than air travel.

          10. Since we are just talking theory here, I live in the DFW area I follow American pretty closely in the local news. Before the merger they had a history of making corporate decisions in many areas that cost them money and did not yield the intended results. I am not sure if the seating debacle happened during an economic downturn and/or if their prices were competitive with Southwest airlines on the same routes. At least here in Dallas American does have competition from Southwest and their price points on those flights may not have been sufficiently reduced to lure people away. I don’t know. I just don’t think the argument from the airlines that people vote with their wallets tells the whole story. There are economic factors that I am not qualified to analyze. And I can tell you that when I price flights out of Dallas on multiple airlines, American is always the most expensive. Even when they are running a sale it usually only reduces the price to the price of Southwest or Alaska Airlines for the same routes. As lawyers we understand the idea of agreeing to disagree and perhaps that is the solution here. 🙂 I am just not convinced that leisure customer decisions drive airline corporate decisions, and business travelers by and large aren’t in a position to complain.

          11. As you correctly stated, we are all just using our own experiences which are by definition limited. Indulge me as I move away from my own flight experiences into this long winded analogy.

            For me, I apply principles of economics. It appears that many travelers do not distinguish between a coach seat between carriers. As such the product becomes a commodity. One of the defining elements of a commodity is that there is no differentiation between the goods and consequently no difference in price. Branding is lost.

            Consider, cattle. In general, every tri-tip in your local supermarket is sold for exactly the same price. Rarely do consumers care enough about the farm that raised the beef. Suppose, Farmer John’s tri-tip was priced at $3.99/lb and Farmer Smith’s tri-tip was priced at $4.25/lb. Same store, same meat aisle.

            No one would have a reason to buy Farmer Smith’s beef as beef is a commodity. So, Farmer Smith has to increase his beef production to lower his prices which means, more cattle per farm, closed in, little space to move, feed them cheaper food.

            Kinda sounds like coach cabin, eh? Much like the cattle, we see airlines pack more people in the cabin and remove amenities. No wonder it’s called steerage class. Without differentiation the product becomes a commodity and it becomes a race to the bottom.

            Of course, some farmers try to differentiate themselves and receive a competitive advantage, e.g. organics, grass-fed, sustainably harvested, etc. The hope being that you increase your costs by $1.00 but will increase your selling price by $2.00. But at the very least you must be able to command an extra $1.00 to break even, otherwise you will abandon the value added element.

            And to the extent that passengers are willing to pay a premium for additional comfort, as long as that premium exceeds the additional cost of delivering the better product, airlines are happy to provide it. That’s why we have premium products such as Economy plus and first/business class.

          12. So if this is true, why aren’t American’s prices more competitive in the DFW market? They have to contend with Southwest and Spirit (the latter held up as a shining example of low cost airline success by some), as well as several other airlines that fly the same routes. These now include Frontier (another low cost model) and Delta (going that way), as well as United, Virgin and Alaska. You can get a considerable discount from American’s Dallas fares to the same cities if you are willing to drive to Austin, which is only 3 hours from here. American’s fares in Dallas have been higher than similar markets for years, if you believe what’s been written in the media. One of the reasons touted was the Wright Amendment, which handicapped Love Field to the benefit of DFW Airport. Now that is gone and Southwest has expanded their flights but American’s fares have still not gone down. They must figure they are doing OK without going after the consumers that are allegedly choosing to fly based on price. Or the fact that some consumers go elsewhere doesn’t impact them enough for them to make fare changes – which means the vote with your wallet theory doesn’t impact what I would consider a major air carrier in this country. Again this is all theoretical and based on my experience and what I read, not data.

          13. The answer is fairly simple. We have to compare apples with apples otherwise the analysis becomes infinitely more complicated. A couple thoughts

            1. A whole bunch of people (like me) aren’t willing to drive 3 hours to catch a flight. That’s hardly a meaningful comparison.

            2. Southwest doesn’t permit its prices to be shown on many sites, thus with its reputation as the low cost leader many people will book them without comparison shopping.

            3. Does southwest even fly to DFW? I thought it only flew to DAL. For all I know they may be next to each other, but for someone outside of the area, they might as well be 1000 miles apart.

            4. AA has international flights leaving DFW. Southwest does not.

            5. DFW is a hub for AA, so many people traveling there are transitioning through which will increase the load factors leaving less capacity which translates to higher prices for people in that market.

            Basically, the point is that we are not making an apples to apples comparison in that analysis. We can, but we’d need to get more sophisticated to correct for those other factors.

          14. I agree with your comment about apples to apples. I just don’t have the data – I have read that American is considerably higher in DFW when considering a variety of factors and it was in our local paper. And I do know people who drive to Austin for cheaper flights. I would not do that either.

            DAL is Love Field, which is our original airport and is fairly close to downtown. I live approximately the same number of miles from each airport. I prefer Love for various reasons but I know people who prefer DFW.

            Southwest does have some international flights but obviously not anything near what American has.

  5. Question. Is it harder to get a refund or make things right to the passenger simply because these are managed by a third party like plusgrade?

    aerlingus. com/travelinformation/planandbook/upgradeyourself/

    The charge for an Upgrade may appear under the name of Plusgrade LP,
    the company collecting Upgrade charges on behalf of Aer Lingus. You agree that you will not challenge or dispute a charge by reason that Plusgrade LP appears on the statement applicable to your payment card.

  6. I voted Yes. I think this is a case where the refund was due more to Chris’s involvement and EI’s desire to not look bad in the press than anything else. The old media blackmail strikes again. Their initial offer was fair. Changing it to cash would have been exceptionally nice. Refunding the entire cost of the ticket because his seat didn’t work… Seriously!

    Like most… I also take issue with Chris’s statement about seat pitch. Ultimately what matters isn’t what I want, its what I’m willing to pay for. Considering the number of “Econ +” or “Econ Comfort” (or whatever DL is going to call them now) seats that go unsold and given to elites, I’d argue that the flying public doesn’t really want to pay for extra legroom. They want cheap seats. Cheap seats drives more people on each flight and a lower pitch.

    If it wasn’t true, RyanAir & Spirit wouldn’t be flying.

    1. I agree, but I think its a stretch to assume that it was because of a PR scare. I think more likely that Chris is able to bypass the drones and reach the queen bee. It’s the same thing about hiring attorneys. When I send a letter to a company, it gets forwarded to either senior management or the legal department thus bypassing several levels and making it more likely to get a positive response. My letters are rarely ignored and I suspect the same thing with Chris.

    2. I agree the only factor effecting the LW’s outcome was Chris and the potential for media shaming. What this says is unhappy, write Chris.

    3. John, I agree that I think Chris’ involvement *did* have some level of impact here… but… I don’t think I’d agree with, or use the term “blackmail”.. only because I don’t think that this is what Chris is about, nor do I think he intentionally uses tactics in such a manner that could be interpreted by an outsider as being practices of blackmail… that said, I think how or in what manner does he intervene will play a role in what perception the other side forms.
      However, I can’t overlook the fact that when someone interacts with you, there will be a natural tendency to “size up” the other and how one is sized may play a role in the following actions.

  7. Failure to respond to emails about the flight is inexcusable. A full refund is totally appropriate where there is a breakdown in delivering acceptable service, in whole or in part. I think you went too far even surveying on this question.

    1. From the business perspective, the refund makes a lot of PR sense.
      Bear in mind this airline has a bidding system (to sell upgrades to seats that would otherwise go empty). The marginal cost is maybe ZERO since the upgrade did not displace a real business class paying pax.
      The last think EI wants is to make it appear this thing is a scam.

  8. Question: How many people commenting here about upgrading to “Economy Comfort” seating are business travelers with their companies picking up the tab or people who can afford the extra bite from their apple? No one is “asking” for less legroom when they go for cheaper fares. It’s a case of ordinary people willing to sacrifice their comfort for several hours in order to save money. The airlines will keep squeezing us, inch by inch, until we stop buying tickets, then they’ll stop squeezing us. I’m astonished that the government hasn’t stepped in on the basis of safety. One of these days, there will be an emergency requiring an evacuation and 250 people will be struggling to extract themselves from all those squeezed-together rows.

    1. Not this person. My company pays for the cheapest seat. I upgrade to Economy Plus on my own dime so that I don’t have to cram my 35-inch-inseam legs against the seat in front of me. When Economy Plus isn’t available (as is often the case), I politely ask the person in front of me to let me know before they recline so I can shift my knees to the side. About half the time they take pity on me and don’t recline at all. The other half the time, I can at least move my knees before settling into my cramped misery.

    2. Here’s the basic math on this…
      Increasing pitch across the plane reduces the number of seats without drastically changing the operating costs of the flight.
      Do you really think that the airline is just going to forego the extra revenue? I doubt it. Instead their going to raise the cost across the entire cabin for everyone.

      At least as it is now, you can choose if you’re going to pay the extra amount. Let us not forget AA’s failed experiment with doing exactly this. The flying public wouldn’t pay the premium.

    3. I don’t know any company that pays for anything other than the cheapest tickets when flying domestically unless you are a senior executive.

    4. I don’t fly for business but my husband does. His company requires him to take the cheapest fare possible, regardless of time, connections, seat pitch, etc. They used to allow their employees to book their own flights and get reimbursed at the cheapest fare available, but now they run travel arrangements through this month’s chosen travel agency. What I do is get the confirmation number and make the changes with my own credit card to get my husband a better seat or flight. Some agencies lock down their reservations and you can’t make a change, so then I call the agency and try to work with the agent.

      As to the evacuation issue, there are regs in place that require any configuration of airplane to be able to be evacuated in 90 seconds.

      1. Corporate travel services are the Walmart of air travel. They will follow the cheapest seat down to the penny without regard to travel time, connections, or convenience. I hope your spouse appreciates you!

    5. I always choose the Econ + seats when I fly whether it is for work or not. My company does not pay for anything beyond the basic, lowest priced, seat available. If I choose anything else, it comes directly out of my pocket. No I cannot wedge this into my expense report by any means.

    6. Not me, my company will pay the lowest seat price available, and its not worth it to me to upgrade for an inch of space. and a few amenities.

  9. Just my opinion here. I have noticed that a 34″ pitch is quite fine for long flights (my data point is KE JFK to ICN). The person in front of me can recline and I can still live happily in my seat. Unfortunately that is not possible with a 32″ pitch or less. So here is my suggestion. Why not create an FAA memo that requires airlines to REMOVE the ability to recline if the seat pitch is not at least 33″? This might make the world a little more peaceful since it will (in reality) force airlines to give at least 33″ pitch for long range flights or else very few would buy their flights.

  10. So, slightly off topic but…
    Saw that Delta is now offering seats with no seat assignments for cheap. How long until a family buys these tickets and then forces people on board to move so they can sit together? What will FAs do?

    Inquiring minds want to know. Maybe Chris could ask Delta about procedures involving this situation because I forsee other airlines trying it, too.

    1. Since you’re now a family with a small child, what would *you* do? Genuinely curious (and don’t want to move on to my next task).

      1. I like the idea of plunking the kid down beside a stranger, handing said stranger some wet wipes, and saying, “I’m sorry, but he (or she) has been upchucking all day. Then just sit back and watch the fun. 🙂

      1. Since there are no seat assignments for anyone on Southwest, finding enough together for a family is almost never an issue unless you are in the last part of boarding group C.

      2. Sometimes I do. But when I fly SWA, I know in advance that NO ONE has a seat assignment. In Delta’s case, you have people who have paid dirt for their tickets and will expect others to accommodate them.
        I want to know Delta’s policy on that.

    2. Or someone pays for a seat assignment but the FA asks them to move for a family that bought the cheap seats. Unless Delta has some policies laid out and posted on the web this has the potential to be problematic.

  11. Pretty generous of the airline, but considering his seat sounded worse than a regular coach seat, maybe more than a $710 refund was warranted.

    1. How is any business class seat worse than coach on any plane?

      The seat is still the larger sized seat. The business class meal still was served and Drinks were available, neither available in any coach seat on that flight. The LW did receive some value for what he paid.

  12. If I had been this LW I would have settled for the $500, so long as it were cash. If I paid cash, then I should get any compensation in cash. Why do airlines love vouchers so much? Undoubtedly because most of them expire unused, since you only get one year.

  13. I think he asked for too much. However, the airline, after contact with Chris, gave the OP what they wanted to. It is not up to us if it is too much.

  14. As far as I am concerned all this guy was owed was a refund if the difference between the coach and business class seats and not in the form of a credit.

    I am really taking this one as a learning lesson to whine to Chris going forward when something doesn’t go exactly my way. It seems companies become overly generous when Chris contacts them at least 50% of the time. I want more than I am entitled to also! (Said tongue in cherk)

  15. When the Airlines or company sell a product (in this case the upgrade) at certain price because this product at this specific moment has this specific pricing value, no more no less. Air Lingus must deliver the product as promised or in promotion even at 1$, because after take off this upgrade value is 0$. The same thing as when a department store sell a 100$ shirt at sale price of 10$ because the value of this shirt is not more than 10$ on the market, if unsold, they will give it to charity because this shirt cost money in stock. I think the passenger is entitled to the full refund of the upgrade expense. May be he would choose another Airlines if the lottery upgrade was not offered.

  16. So he who whines gets his money back? A $500 voucher was a generous gesture. Aer Lingus got him from point A to point B, didn’t they? These things happen when travelling and most of us would be delighted to receive a big fat voucher to make us feel better after a disappointment. I do believe that rewarding the whiners creates more whiners …. and makes the airline less compassionate in the future when someone really does need some help.

  17. Business class is not designed to just give adequate legroom, it’s designed to give much more. He paid for amenities he did not get and thus a full refund was in order.

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