One of the problems with flying, especially on long distance flights, is limited leg room in economy class. Yet the step up to business class requires spending some multiple of coach fares. I've always wondered why there aren't more steps between economy and business classes. Came across a Businessweek article that sheds some light on the economics of airplane seat costs. A business class seat alone now weights 200 lbs more than coach.
A single business class berth crammed full of entertainment systems and the electronics needed to morph into a bed can weigh 300 pounds, three times its coach class counterpart, and typically costs $80,000 to $100,000.
Just who are the price insensitive buyers who will pay, say, $5400 to go business class from San Francisco to Sydney in 1 hop versus $1800 for Economy? Are they employees? At what corporate rank or in what industries? That's nultiple is a factor of 3. Check out Kayak and try some long haul flights. The multiple between Economy and Premium Economy (like Business?) from NYC to Johannesburg, South Africa is on the order of 4 or 5.
So is there really little demand for adequate leg room by itself? Seems like it. Yet I don't need a 200 lbs greater seat to sit in with lots of electronic gadgetry built in. An extra laptop battery and an extra smart phone battery can keep me in movies, music, and ebooks for all my waking hours even on a 20 hour flight. Does the price gap between economy and business classes indicate a different source of buying power (ability of corp execs to get their employer to pay more) that is much less price sensitive?
Short of business class there are ways to get more leg room, at least on some flights: pay more for exit row seating. As that link to British Airways shows, it can be problematic though. You can try to pay for an exit row seat in in Economy or Premium Economy at 14 days before departure. So do you have to buy your ticket before knowing whether you can pay for the exit row upgrade? Do you have to start your out-bound part of a trip before knowing whether you can buy an exit row seat on the in-bound part?
Is paying for exit row seating a viable strategy for getting more leg room on long haul flights? The answer is unclear to me. A site called Seat Guru has layouts of various aircraft for each airline with seat quality ratings by color. Note a small number of Green (good) seats on this Continental Boeing 737-500. Given that frequent fliers can nab those seats my guess is they are very hard to get. But it can be worse. Take the Continental Boeing 767-400ER (Extended Range - where leg room would be most beneficial) for example, It has no Green good seats. The exits have lavatories galleys next to them. So no seats have extra leg room. By contrast, the Continental 777-200ER has a number of green seats.
United Airlines has Economy Plus which is more what I'm interested in. On a United 777-200 Economy Plus provides "up to" 5 inches of extra leg room. Not sure what is meant by "up to". But on a United 747-400 Economy Plus provides only up to 3 extra inches.
Note that you can hover over seats in Seat Guru to get extra information. A lot of the exit row seats do not have under-seat storage space. This seems problematic if you want to bring along a backpack with laptop and ebook reader. Will you be able to store it nearby and retrieve and store again on a longer flight?
What I'd like: a web search engine on flight availability where one can include leg room minimums in one's search.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2011 December 24 01:57 PM Economics Transportation|