If you’ve never had the chance to fly Spirit’s Big Front Seat, you might be surprised to hear that it’s probably one of the best values in flying today. It’s also an incredibly unique product which exists nowhere else I know. This model, a true no-frills premium cabin (yes I understand that sounds like a paradox) is worth looking at in more detail. Could this be done on a much grander scale in the future? Yes it could.
Spirit’s model for the Big Front Seat is incredibly simple. The name actually says it all. If you pay extra, you get a big seat in… wait for it… the front of the airplane. In fact, it’s a whole lot like the seat you’ll get in domestic First Class on any other airline. So why is it so different?
Well, it’s really just a big seat and nothing else. Traditionally, premium cabins have come with a host of frills that can range from priority boarding and lounge access to meals, free drinks, and hot towels. It has always been about the premium experience, not just the seat. And for that reason, it has come with a much heftier price tag.
Spirit, however, saw it differently. There are some people who don’t care about all that other stuff. They just want a bigger, more comfortable seat without any of the extra frills. That’s exactly what you get on Spirit. It’s the exact same service (or lack thereof) as people get in the other seats in coach. By de-coupling the seat from the service, Spirit can offer it for a whole lot less. This is why it can be one of the best values in air travel.
The industry has moved to the a la carte model over the last few years, but that’s been largely in the coach cabin only. This model could, and should, come to the premium cabin, and I’m not just talking about short-haul. I’d love even more to see it on long-haul as well.
If I think about flying from, say, Los Angeles to London, then what’s the difference between flying coach and business? The list is long. Think about the things like the large baggage allowance, lounge access, priority check-in, security, and immigration lines, upgraded food and dishware, better ratio of flight attendants to passengers, etc. Once you add all those things up and consider how much it costs, then you can understand that is not a cheap product to deliver.
I’m a perfect example of someone who would be interested in stripping all that fluff out. I love having a flat bed on long flights. You give me that and some form of inflight entertainment (matching what’s offered in coach), and I’m a happy camper. I’m not a big eater on airplanes and I don’t care about the the extra service, lounges, or priority check-in.
Just give me that seat at a premium far less than I’d pay for business, and I’m interested. Of course, there is concern about dilution. Will people buying those expensive business class seats buy down to the barebones product? That could sink this plan, but a test along with some research could easily determine that.
Where this gets even more interesting is when you think about what this can do operationally. It’s no secret that premium cabin demand varies greatly by route. New York to London has a ton of demand, but if that same airplane then flies New York to Budapest, demand tanks. It also varies by season, day-of-week, etc. You can’t easily just vary the number of business class seats you have on an airplane, but you could vary how many you sell as traditional business class and how many you sell as just a Big Front Seat. Create different offerings using the hardware that already exists onboard.
Some airlines have started to inch toward this model, but they’re making the same mistakes they did when going a la carte in coach… death by a thousand cuts.
British Airways, for example, angers a lot of people by charging for seat assignments in business class. It doesn’t fit with what business class should be. But if BA rolled out a no-frills Big Front Seat product and put it next to a traditional fare with the frills bundle, then it would be a different story.
I imagine we’re going to see something like this eventually. As long as the dilution threat can be dealt with, the idea seems too compelling to ignore.