Will United’s Confession Be A Game Changer For American’s Passengers Too?


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In a fascinating interview with ABC News, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz asked whether it’s time to stop squeezing passengers by making seats smaller, Munoz confessed:

“I think we are nearing a point certainly that we can’t do that anymore.”

This follows on from the actions of almost every airline around the world. Airlines have been densifying their cabins which means fitting more economy seats into their planes by reducing seat width and the pitch to around 30 inches. I am 5 foot 7 and 30 inches of pitch feels claustrophobic to me. I can’t imagine how small this feels to larger passengers.

The problem is that people keep booking these headline-worthy cheap flights. They endure the discomfort, complain and then rebook on the exact same seat on the same plane again.

At least they have up until recently. In the last few years, we have seen the rollout of International Premium Economy on most airlines, with seats offering a more palatable pitch and a slightly improved level of food and service. Guess what, these seats sell like hotcakes.

British Airways has followed the usual trend too. It stopped delivering free drinks and snacks in Economy a while ago, and the pitch of the seats is around 30 inches in both economy and business class on its European flights.

I understand the densification process to keep up with the headline rates of low-cost carriers even though I don’t agree with the effectiveness of this plan in the long term. I do not understand the removal of drinks and a light snack onboard. How much does a glass of orange juice and a packet of crisps cost them per person? Considering that the OJ is from concentrate on BA, the cost of a very light bite surely can’t come to more than 30-50p per passenger. Are the margins really that small? I used to choose to fly BA to get my drink and snack, even if other airlines were cheaper. Now, this differentiator is gone, so there is nothing to incentivise me to fly BA over Easyjet.

I hope United terminates its densification programs. I hope that this will cause American, Delta and British Airways to reconsider densification and improve their economy offerings too.

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