Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Assigned Seats: The New Business Class

In the 1980s(1), airlines faced with an overwhelming number of business travelers who were forbidden to buy expensive First Class tickets but tired of flying Coach came up with a new concept: Business Class. For about half the price of a First Class fare, a Business Class seat offered longer legroom, wider seats, tastier food, and more personalized service than Coach. It was a huge success--at least for a few years, when companies went through their next round of cost-cutting.

Today, most business travelers travel in the class of service created for them only when they're able to broker an upgrade from a Coach fare. Aware of the strict "bottom line"-centric price controls increasingly in place at American companies, U.S. low-cost carriers like Southwest have seen an opportunity to jump into the fray with a new take on business travel. For an extra $10 to $30 per ticket, road warriors booking Southwest's Business Select fares earn the right to board first--a coveted privilege on an airline that has no reserved seating.

Not to be outdone by its sky-borne counterpart, commercial bus carrier Greyhound announced its own initiative. Like Business Select, Priority Boarding offers passengers advance boarding but goes a step further by allowing them to actually reserve specific seats online--and it costs just $5 to boot, handily undercutting Southwest's fee.

Now, to be fair, Southwest's Business Select provides a few other benefits. Passengers earn additional credit in the airline's Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program, and each booking comes with a coupon for a complimentary alcoholic beverage that you pointedly won't be offered on Greyhound. But then again, when you as a business traveller are faced with the reality that the amenities you'll get on your flight are only a slight step ahead of taking the bus, you'll probably need that drink.

Happy travels.

(1) Strictly speaking, the first Business Class seating was introduced by Australia's then-national carrier Qantas in 1979. However, it was during the 1980s that the offering was first offered by U.S. airlines.

1 comment:

MG Storyteller said...

I guess it's kinda cool that Greyhound has priority seating now. Depending on where you're leaving from, waiting in line and boarding the bus can be a major pain. I've seen it happend in New York Port Authority, for example, where they've oversold the bus and the poor slobs at the back of the line are just SOL. When this happens, the unfortunate ones are told they have to wait for the next bus, which could take hours, and often does.

On the other hand, the major reason to ride Greyhound is the cheapness of it, so I'm not sure how many people are going to jump at the chance to spend $5 more on their bus ticket.

On top of that, I am not exactly confident that the Greyhound ticket checkers are going to be on top of the new priority boarding paradigm. As CS goes, they are neither the most courteous nor coherent. I'll be curious to see how well they manage it the next time I embark from Port Authority.

I'll let you know how it goes.