India Uncut

This blog has moved to its own domain. Please visit for the all-new India Uncut and bookmark it. The new site has much more content and some new sections, and you can read about them here and here. You can subscribe to full RSS feeds of all the sections from here. This blogspot site will no longer be updated, except in case of emergencies, if the main site suffers a prolonged outage. Thanks - Amit.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Cattle class is luxury

So it will seem after standing-only seats are introduced in airlines, as this article discusses.

I've been travelling a lot recently by low-cost airlines -- I'm so glad air travel has become so affordable in India -- and one policy I've seen Air Deccan follow befuddles me: they often have free-seating. This means that you're not assigned a seat at the time of checking in, and everyone is, thus, scrambling to get in the plane first. This leads to frantic scenes at the time of boarding, where, once the gate number is announced, people battle to get through as if it's a Virar Fast. Many queues form -- certainly more than two! -- and break into a mob, as people rush across to the coach that will take them to the plane.

The trick, of course, is not to get to the coach first, but to get out of it first, because that's how you get to the plane first. So once the mob reaches the coach, you have an ironic situation where they brake to a halt at the door, and refuse to go too far inside. A bottleneck of people suddenly forms, as everyone tries to look dignified while refusing to give way to fellow passengers, hanging on to their place near the door.

Somehow the coach fills up, and when it reaches the plane passengers spill out like boiling milk and rush across the few yards of tarmac between them and the "larderlarder!" as one rotund lady shrieked at this stage of my last flight.

The best part, of course, is that most of these lovely gentlefolk don't even know which seats to take. They dive into window seats near the entrance, leaving me to expertly manouver past the detritus to the emergency-exit-row seats further down the plane, where the legroom is ample and the reading light is always on.

What I find bizarre is that I don't think there's any cost-saving in having free seating. Strange. Why then? To entertain bloggers?

Update: Heh, do check out this old post by Prabhu in which he introduces us to concepts like "Floor Class" and "Standing Class." Such joy.

Update 2: Ashwin writes in:
A lot of low-cost airlines do not have assigned seating. American Airlines like Southwest and AirTran also follow the same procedure. One of the most important reasons being time saving, which leads to cost saving by improving efficiency. This occurs by allowing for a faster turnaround of planes on the tarmac.

When people are assigned seats they are generally much slower to board the plane, as they know have a seat. So they spend more time at a bookstore or restaurant. On the other hand, with no assigned seating, people have no assurance of getting the seat they like. Hence, they waste no time in boarding the plane. Generally savings in time are in the order of 10-30 minutes depending on the size of the plane. If an airline had a 100 flights a day the savings in time (and cost) are enormous.
Yep, that makes perfect sense.

Update 3: Blogger DNA writes in:
Regarding "no seat assignment" policy, more than what Ashwin had pointed out, the real cost opportunity lies in the seat inventory management. Most of the airlines pay an outside vendor for ticket database management where costs are computed on a "per transaction" basis. By eliminating seat assignment, they are also eliminating any kind of seat change/upgrade possibilities which helps airlines reduce cost in maintiaing ticket inventory. Also, this reduces the work load for Customer service agents at the gate thereby adding efficiency to the turn around. With respect to boarding time, the difference between the two system of seat management are not due to the "passenger" behavior. It is more due to the passenger processing at the gates.
Fair point. I wonder how large these savings are, though.
amit varma, 3:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

I recommend: