One traveler made clear her disdain for a longhaul flight in economy class saying, “I’m not going to fly to Europe in 36B. 36B is a bra size, not an airline seat.” That may be a cute quip, but it does reveal how more are thinking about overseas travel…and how airlines are responding with more premium seats.
The Permanent New Demand For Premium Airline Seats
CNBC’s Leslie Josephs notes a number of interesting trends via Cirium:
- Economy class seats account for 79.3% of seats between the US and Europe, down from 81.9% in 2018
- Business class seats have risen from 12.9% to 13.5% over the same period
- Premium economy class seats have risen from 4.2% to 6.4% over the same period
Airlines are seeing greater return in adding more premium seats because passengers are willing to pay for them more than before. Joseph suggests this is a lingering effect of the pandemic (people want more room to spread out), but I think it is due to the smarter prices airlines have adapted for their best seats. People won’t pay 10X as much for business class as economy class, but they might very well 3-4X as much.
Another sign of the times: Delta expects revenue from premium tickets (that includes extra legroom economy class) to account for 35% of its revenue this year. That number was only 24% a decade ago in 2014.
And this: in 2009, 9% of seats sold on Delta were premium. That number grew to 28% by 2019. In 2024, Delta projects that number will be 30%.
Delta is not alone. Even as it removes international first class, America Airlines says the number of premium seats on its widebody and longhaul aircraft will grow by more than 45% by 2026 compared to 2019. United has removed economy class seats and introduced 767-300 jets with an unprecedented ratio of premium seats to economy class seats.
So what is going on here?
I mentioned the more attractive pricing above, which is a key factor. The decline in business travel since the pandemic has helped this trend and made premium cabin seating more accessible to more people. But the greater demand for premium cabin seats also represents a change in the way we think about life.
In interacting with so many readers and Award Expert clients, it has become clear to me that people increasingly would rather spend the money to enjoy the journey than spend it on souvenirs or other tangible objects that take up space. I think that is a healthy trend and even as travel recedes this autumn and winter from its post-pandemic boomerang, my guess is that premium demand will remain strong.
Airlines are adding more premium seats than ever before, even in the face of declining demand for business travel. More travelers are choosing more comfortable seats, even at a premium cost, on longhaul flights. Perhaps I am a good a case as any. While I don’t know mind traveling with my family in economy class since my kids physically don’t need a lie-flat bed to be comfortable, I am very reluctant to take solo trips any longer without premium seating. Of course I can survive in economy class, but I do not want to just survive…I want to arrive well-rested, not exhausted. That’s worth money.
Has your evaluation of premium airline seats changed at all?