In the era of the pandemic, did Alaska Airlines make the right call by resisting the trend to offer lie-flat seating to its premium transcontinental flights? Alaska Airlines sure thinks so.
Alaska Airlines Is “Thankful” It Does Does Not Offer Lie-Flat Seats In First Class
During a recent earnings call on January 26th, Alaska’s Chief Commercial Officer, Andrew Harrison, was asked whether he regretted not installing lie-flat seats onboard its aircraft utilized for transcontinental travel:
“We feel really good. We are very thankful that we maintained a non-lie-flat position. We think our first class seats are spot on for the demand environment.”
While it may seem counterintuitive that a carrier would ever be thankful it offers what is essentially a vastly inferior product to all of its competition (American, Delta, JetBlue, and United), Alaska does have two things working to its advantage.
First, it caters to the cost-sensitive traveler. Its trancon prices continues to drop and I routinely see one-way fares from coast to coast for under $300 in first class. With limited in-flight offerings, that’s not only a reasonable price, but it also attracts a customer willing to pay a premium over coach, but perhaps not double or triple just for a lie-flat seat on a five-hour flight.
And during a time in which business travel is severely limited, the Alaska Airlines seat does seem “spot on” for the demand environment.
Harrison also noted the uniqueness of the Alaska Airlines travel base:
“Our business is down, whether you measure it by bookings or revenues, just like everybody else’s are. I think where we have a unique strength is, especially in Alaska, are in the commercial slopes, the fisherman, the oil workers, those types of things. We have strength. And, just the nature of our business, we still have a lot of small business travelers who do a fair bit of travel. The big ones that are the challenge, obviously, are the Microsofts and the Amazons with very strict policies right now on no travel.”
Is Alaska Airlines Smart To Avoid Lie-Flat Seating?
Innovation and market differentiation are an important factor in driving competition and keeping fares competitive. While I would avoid Alaska Airlines for these coast-to-coast fights, it is neither unwise nor unreasonable for Alaska Airlines to cater to a loyal elite base with frequent upgrades and more infrequent business travelers with a wider seat at a more affordable price.
Time will tell if Alaska made the right choice or not, but at this moment (with premium cabins empty on premier routes) it appears to be a wise one.
Tip: Check The Competition
Before you book a cheap fare on Alaska Airlines, though, do check the competition. JetBlue often matches Alaska Airlines, particularly on flights to/from Seattle. Would you rather fly JetBlue Mint or Alaska Airlines for $300 across the country? Yes, that’s any easy choice for JetBlue.
Alaska Airlines is “thankful” that it offers an inferior premium cabin product, often at a lower price point. While the pandemic era of travel seems to validate that business decision, the true test will come once the pandemic ends and business travels emerges again.
Are you willing to stay loyal to Alaska Airlines despite the inferior first class seat?
(H/T: Simply Flying)