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Most Travelers Won’t Pay Extra to Avoid This Seat on the Plane

Travelers keep complaining about indifferent treatment, or worse, at the hands of the airlines: the too-tight seats, the too-long lines, the too-nasty fees.

The airlines, for their part, counter that they’re simply responding to travelers’ price-sensitivity. So long as consumers put price ahead of comfort or convenience, the airlines have no choice but to configure their pricing and services accordingly.

A new poll by Reuters bolsters the airlines’ case, suggesting that travelers who bemoan their lot are hypocrites. The poll results reflect responses by 2,316 adult travelers to two questions, one regarding loyalty, the other regarding willingness to spend more to avoid the universally despised middle seat.

Loyalty? Not Much

When queried about their willingness to spend more to fly with their preferred airline, 52 percent of the respondents said they would not, while 30 percent would spend “a little more.” Only 5 percent indicated they would spend “a lot more,” and 13 percent weren’t sure.

So much for loyalty generally, and for loyalty programs in particular.

Pay for Comfort? Even Less

Willingness to pay extra to avoid the middle seat in coach is a pretty good proxy for travelers’ values when it comes to the cost-comfort tradeoff. Among the Reuters poll respondents, a full 60 percent were unwilling to pay any premium for a non-middle seat. A decidedly modest 23 percent would spend “a little more,” and a paltry 5 percent would spend “a lot more.”

It’s unclear whether travel consumers have become more disloyal and price-sensitive on their own accord, or whether the airlines have inculcated that stinginess, by degrading their services to the point they became commoditized. Maybe some of each.

Either way, Cost is now King. And all that implies.

Reader Reality Check

Are we getting exactly what we deserve as travel consumers?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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