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Loyalty Program Trends

While loyalty programs have been garnering a lot of attention off late, the latest trends in airplane seating may raise your eyebrows. As airlines continue to be more profitable, they’re looking in to squeeze in more revenue where possible. Airlines are a business and so it’s pretty obvious that they’ll be taking decisions that benefit their employees and shareholders.

Customer Experience

However, how does that affect customer experience? Given the consolidation that has occurred in the Airline industry over the years, customers are now left with fewer choices. Airlines are always looking to optimize operations. This helps them manage their existing inventory more efficiently, reduce costs and improve their overall bottom line.

Airline Seating

Buckle up for more seats on the same plane (Image Credit: Unsplash)

A few recent ‘innovations’ in airline seating got me thinking. A recent article by the LA times delves deeper into some of the newest trends that may give you a peek into the future of airline seating. Let’s analyze few of the key points from the article.

Standing Seats?

And then there was the Italian seat manufacturer Aviointeriors, which displayed the latest iteration of its Skyrider “standing seat.” It’s an idea that the company unveiled about a decade ago and keeps refining to make it more appealing to airlines.

Imagine a bicycle seat with a lightly padded, upright piece of plastic to lean against.

While this is being dubbed as innovation, it’s nothing more than an effort to cram in more seats. We’ve steadily seen the reduction of seat pitch over the years, especially after the introduction of low cost carriers.

Seat Pitch

When discussing airline seats, it’s all about “pitch.” That’s the distance from a point on one seat to the same point on the seat before it. This is what defines not just the space in front of your torso but also how much (or little) legroom you’re allotted.

Many carriers strive for an economy-class seat pitch of 29 to 32 inches. The pitch of the Skyrider is — wait for it — 23 inches.

This is a dangerous precedent to set. This just strikes one more nail in the loyalty coffin for me. As products seem to get more and more similar in nature, customers’ interest and loyalty tend to go down the drain. If the major US carriers end up getting approvals for such seating, we may just end up further worsening of the in-flight experience.

Economy Slim

Now Boarding Group 26, Economy Super Slim! (Image Credit: Unsplash)

As basic economy continues to be the bane of existence for most flyers, another concept seems to be gaining traction. Imagine your seat becoming even more slimmer and more uncomfortable. Yes, economy slim is here!

At the Hamburg expo, Aviointeriors also was promoting what it calls its ESP seats, as in “economy slim platform.” These are more like traditional seats in that they have, you know, actual seats. But otherwise they’re about as minimalist an experience as you can imagine. Aviointeriors says online that the ESP seats meet the “best space exploitation international standards,” which is a fancy way of saying, “Here’s how you can really pack ’em in.”

The Worst Part

I’m not sure how many of these would even get approved by regulators, but you never know. The details are really scary.

  • proposal from Airbus, the European aviation powerhouse, for a bike saddle-style contraption that looks more like playground equipment than an airline seat. The patent acknowledges that even though this setup accommodates more people, “this increase in the number of seats is achieved to the detriment of the comfort of the passengers.”
  • Another idea from Airbus that stacks passengers bunk-bed-style — bottom seats and top seats. This has the virtue of allowing you to get twice as many people into roughly the same amount of space.
  • And my particular favorite from Zodiac Seats France, boasting a hexagonal design that alternates forward-facing seats with rear-facing seats, thus creating, perhaps deliberately, the precise sensation of a can of sardines.

The Pundit’s Mantra

The ball is in the FAA’s court. While this may be dubbed as innovation by the companies pitching these products, they’re pretty much an effort to squeeze in as many seats as possible.  The approval and adoption of these design adoption by the major US carriers will only lead to more commoditization. More commoditization means less differentiation. If all airlines have a similar product and similar standards of service, why would any customer have an incentive to stay loyal? I hope the FAA steps in and that common sense prevails.

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