At a time when you would think the airlines would be a little more image conscious, you know because of that whole beating customers and dragging them off the plane thing that United did, they’re apparently doubling down on efforts to make “Flying The Friendly Skies” the most miserable experience ever.
After years of finding new ways to charge for ‘perks’ that used to be standard (want to use our aisle to access your seat…that’ll be a $10 fee, please), according to the Wall Street Journal, airlines are getting ready to implement a whole new set of restrictions on their poorest customers. So, for those of you who have grown accustomed to lavish perks like free overhead bin space, get ready for your new reality.
Battling it out with discount carriers, the world’s biggest airlines are rolling out ultracheap economy-class tickets, or cutting back sharply on basic amenities for their lowest-paying customers. At the same time, they are pulling out the stops to lavish their premium fliers with more perks.
American, United Continental, and Delta all now offer super-low fares, dubbed “basic economy,” that strip out even once-standard allowances, such as carry-on baggage or a choice of seat before boarding.
Those are now extra for these ticket holders, who also generally board last. But the fares are competitive with discount airlines such as Southwest Airlines Co. A United basic economy ticket between Washington and Minneapolis for travel in early May was recently listed as low as $128, $20 less than a regular economy fare. Some of the cheapest fares passengers can get on discount carriers are for seats so basic they don’t recline even an inch.
“When we look at economy, we are looking at a commodity product, without a doubt,” BA Chief Executive Officer Alex Cruz said in November.
But, while while flying in the back of the plane is starting to feel a bit more like a cattle stampede than a pleasurable prelude to a vacation, flying in the front of the plane is about to get even more luxurious, including everything from fully-reclining seats to comforters from Saks Fifth Avenue…because a regular blanket just won’t work for some folks.
But at the front of the plane, the same carriers are showering premium passengers with ever more comfort. Middle East and Asian airlines are among those leading the way, with U.S. carriers trying to catch up. American Airlines has upgraded its business class. Delta last year unveiled plans for business-class suites, effectively small cabins that can be closed off from others, with fully reclining seats. The suites should feature on planes this year.
United on intercontinental routes is introducing an upgraded business class, called United Polaris, to try to keep pace with its nearest rivals. The cabin sports fully reclining seats, bedding by Saks Fifth Avenue and noise-canceling headsets. United is rolling it out on its San Francisco-Hong Kong route. A round-trip ticket for a May flight lists at about $5,000.
British Airways, meanwhile, is spending about $500 million to upgrade its premium classes. BA, which popularized the fully reclining business-class seat in the mid-1990s, is planning a new business-class seat design.
So while the ‘millionaire, billionaire, private jet owners’ are sleeping in first class…
…we wish you main streeters the best of luck maintaining your sanity in ‘last class.’