This NY Times article discusses the changing airline guest experience due to price sensitivity. Airlines started a la carte pricing methods, which airline passengers see as additional fees for services and items that used to be free.
The article describes an interesting experience on a Virgin Atlantic flight to London. The company charges for desirable seats in the economy section, but on this flight many passengers declined to pay extra for the seat, leaving multiple aisle seats empty. At this point, I’m sure multiple passengers in the middle seat would have moved over to the aisle seat, making the passengers who paid to secure their aisle seat feel slighted.
The article mentions that the charge for preferred seating is similar to the hotel industry, which charges different room rates for an ocean, garden, or parking-lot view. However, unlike the hotel, the person who paid extra is right next to you, not in a different room or a different section of the hotel.
The fees were first instituted with high fuel prices as the excuse, now the airlines’ excuse is profitability. The article mentions that Southwest Airlines gained a point of market share in 2009 and attributed the gain to its decision to not charge for first or second bags.
If that really is the case, it seems strange that Southwest Airlines benefited by not doing something that their competitors are doing. Several airline spokespeople mention their need and ability to meet their customer’s needs, but it seems like all they need to do is to irritate customers less than their competitors.