Buying the Empty Airline Seat Next to You

Lots of people complain about the lack of leg room on planes, particularly when you are sitting in the cheaper seats down the back of the plane. Admittedly, leg room is getting scarcer as airlines add more rows in order to make more money. For me, even though I am tall, I prefer to have extra bum room. That is, I prefer having an extra seat next to me, so that I can spread out a bit, as the lack of leg room doesn’t really worry me too much.

A couple of airlines now give you the option of purchasing that empty seat next to you, at a discount, providing the seat isn’t occupied by another passenger.

A while ago Air New Zealand introduced a concept called the Skycouch, which has been given the name `cuddle class’, which is aimed at couple and families, and allows them to purchase the extra sea in a row of three, which allows them to spread out, and even to lie down – providing you are not so tall that your feet project out into the aisle.

Now the Malaysian low cost carrier Air Asia, and its long haul brand Air Asia X, together with its technology partner Optiontown, are offering an Empty Seat Option on flights.

This scheme starts at the booking stage. Once you have purchased your ticket, you can also take out an option to use the empty seat, if there is to be one in your row.

Cost is an issue, but only because the final cost of the extra seat won’t be known until between 72-24 hours before departure, and will be determined by the yield for each flight where available spare seating capacity is priced according to demand. In other words, low demand for the service results in lower prices, whereas high demand sees the price shoot up as more people compete for that seat.

There is a cost for taking out the option when you book, but it is low, at about 3 Ringgits (that’s the Malaysian currency), or about US$1. If there are no seats available on your flight, that money is refunded to you.

`Cuddle class’ on Air New Zealand is generally more expensive, with a fixed price depending on the number of air miles flown on a leg.

As to how the cabin crew police the empty seats, I don’t know. Obviously, if you have an empty seat next to you, for which you have paid, you are entitled to use it. If there is a spare seat there, for which you, nor anyone else, has paid for its use, how do they stop you from commandeering it for yourself? They can hardly cover the seat in razor wire or zap you with 50,000 volts if you dare touch it.

However, the Empty Seat Option is an interesting exercise, and just another creative way that airlines are able to make money out of you.

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