What to do with unsold airline seats? Sell them, of course! Or rather, allow passengers to pay extra to surround themselves with some of those empty seats.
That’s the idea behind Etihad Airways’ new neighbor-free seat option, which lets coach-class flyers bid for as many as three empty seats next to them. On one of the airline’s B777 planes, configured 3x4x3 in coach, reserving three empty seats in the center seating section would give you a relatively spacious four-across row of seats to yourself. Raise the armrests and spread out across four seats — effectively a lie-flat seat in coach.
No word yet on how much travelers are willing to bid for the extra elbow room.
The move is one of several ancillary-revenue initiatives launched to shore up the bottom line, as Etihad and other Middle East carriers find themselves with more capacity than the market will support, and declining yields as discount carriers capture greater market share.
The carrier is now allowing coach passengers to pay to use the Abu Dhabi business-class lounge (up to $250 per visit) and airport lounges elsewhere in the network (up to $75).
Similarly, business-class passengers who need even more luxury and privacy can pay to upgrade to the airline’s Abu Dhabi first-class lounge.
And looking at the cost side of the equation, Etihad will suspend its complimentary chauffeured airport transfer service for premium passengers on July 3, replacing it with a paid transfer option. (The current free transfers will remain in place at Abu Dhabi airport, and for Residence passengers.)
Reader Reality Check
How much would you pay to have the coach seat next to you empty?
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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.