The Strange Economics Of First Class

The Hartford Courant has an article about the odd economics of flying first class&mdash’where a ticket can cost $14,000 for a simple flight from New York to London. Why are people (or businesses) willing to pay that much money for a bit more comfort? It’s silly…if you stop to think about it.

How much would you pay to enjoy six hours away from your fellow humans, in a chair that reclines? $1,500 an hour – or even more? And if someone invited you to spend $9,000 to pass a long afternoon in a fairly cramped lounge, munching peanuts and reading airline magazines, would you accept? How desperate are you to have access to 15 movies you never would pay to see in a theater, instead of 11?

I often think that the airline executive who came up with the idea of business class should get his name on an endowed chair at the Harvard Business School – and his face on a most-wanted poster.

We’ve often wondered if airlines go out of their way to make the conditions in coach as horrible as possible…to make sure the First Class fliers think they’re getting their money’s worth. First and Business class seats are where airlines make the most money, does it pay for them to keep us cheapskates miserable…as an example to the others?

Look at those figures again. Who in her right mind would pay $9,000 for six hours – or eight, if you include time in the airport – of slightly elevated comfort? Someone who is not paying for her own travel, perhaps, and longs to be a little closer to those billionaires and movie stars who dropped the full $14,000 to be a few extra feet away from the riff-raff.

On the ground, a traveler might expect to pay $100 to get 24 hours of extra comfort in a hotel’s upgraded suite or an executive floor room. But as soon as we take to the skies – and become a kind of captive audience – we will pay $9,000 for a little more of the food that we gladly would have much less of.

At least we weren’t alone in thinking these things as we sipped on our tiny cup of mostly-ice-and-a-little-Coca-Cola and stared at our bruised knees. (We were blessed with the exact wrong type of body for air travel—long legs the hit the seat in front of us and no torso—meaning that the so-called “neck rest” hits us squarely in the back on the head, forcing us into the fetal position for most of the ride. But we’re not bitter or anything.) Even so, $14,000 for a “comfy” seat and better reheated food? Our inner tightwad will never, ever understand. We just rub our knees, smile and remember the Mayflower. At least the trip won’t take 3 months.

One Small Step Up In Comfort, One Giant Leap In Price
[Hartford Courant]
(Photo: Alex-s)