The Middle Seat travel column by Scott McCartney at the Wall Street Journal has been discussing Boeing’s plans to outfit their new 787 in either 8 or 9-across coach seating. Naturally, the 8-across seating gives each passenger more room, while lowering the number of seats the airline can sell. The airlines must now make a calculation about whether customers will actually pay 12% more for the extra room. Readers responded that they may be willing to pay somewhat more ($40, for example) to be in a more comfortable coach seat, although they are not willing to pay the huge differential to sit in business class.
At the end of the day, it seems unlikely that airlines could get a full 12% fare increase versus flights with 9-across seating. Some of this depends on load factors, however. If the plane is only 70% full, then every incremental dollar is valuable. The full 12% differential is only required on sold-out flights. However, it is precisely those flights that give airlines the opportunity to charge premium fares.
Most airlines are going for the 9-across seating (surprise, surprise). Why not offer a mixed cabin with some sections of each seating arrangement, like United and British Airways? Part of the problem is customer confusion. Especially with the rise of internet travel sites, fares that are $100 higher than the lowest fares may not get sufficient customer attention.
What will customers actually pay for? When airplanes are provisioned for cellular services, expect travelers to pony up big time– for the right to sit in the “quiet section.”