Open Seating – Having a Choice is Nice

America West, Easyjet, Southwest

Some people love open seating on aircraft while others hate it. It’s truly a polarizing issue.

Look at Southwest, for example. The granddaddy of open seating has stuck with their strategy for over 30 years. Many airlines have seen it as a negative, so they’ve tried to exploit it. In what was probably America West’s best commercial, the airline tried to say that flying Southwest was like being in a mosh pit. Click here to watch (.wmv file).

But through all of this, Southwest never budged until this summer when they decided to run some assigned seating tests to see if it was worth switching from their time-honored tradition. While many people bemoaned the open seating concept, the backlash from loyal customers was truly amazing. Look at this blog post by Southwest CEO Gary Kelly. There were 605 comments on it, most of which appear to be against changing to assigned seating. The issue appears to have quietly disappeared for now.

In Europe, many of the low frills guys have followed in Southwest’s footsteps in having open seating on board. But while Southwest has shied away from charging for every individual piece of the flight experience separately, European LCCs have embraced it. And that’s why it’s surprising that it’s taken so long for them to charge for better seating.

Now, Easyjet has announced the introduction of Speedy Boarding. Now when you buy your ticket, you will be given the option to pay between GBP2.50 and GBP7.50 to head to the front of the line for pre-boarding. It appears that this will be offered until twenty people have taken them up on it. There won’t be assigned seating, but with only 20 other people boarding in that group, you’ll have your pick of seats.

Why the range in price? Well, longer flights will cost more, of course. In addition, some flights are boarded by busses to remote stands. There is no way to guarantee that those twenty will be the first off the bus, so it’s not guaranteed. That’s why those flights will be cheaper.

It makes sense to me for the Easyjet model. The idea is to make as much ancillary revenue as possible. At least 20 people on each flight will be happy to pay more just to have piece of mind in knowing they’ll get a good seat.

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