The Friendly (Fee) Skies


Currently, I am in seat 20C of the Economy (Plus) cabin on a United Airlines Flight. I’m heading back home to San Francisco after a short (18 hours) in the city of Denver. I was outside for 5 minutes, caught an Uber, saw the airport, the hotel room, the conference room, two Starbucks and then finally the Rocky Mountains, but only from 25,000 feet or so.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the configuration on a United un-reconfigured B757-200, let me explain: Seat 20C is an aisle seat in the exit row, with about 5 feet of legroom. It’s on the right-handed aisle side of the aircraft wherein I am free to play Sudoku in the Hemispheres Magazine or write this blog post. It’s a great seat and one that I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten today (and yesterday)!
(see image on right)

As with most business travelers, I can attest to the sometimes less-than-joyful experience of flying these days; flights are full and good seats are scarce. Luckily for me, I have status with United, but what if I didn’t? What about the unlucky leisure traveler? You know the ones who come out every month or so to visit the less-than-friendly skies and whose lives are undeniably harder up at 30,000 ft: boarding last, sitting in the middle seat and facing the non-economy plus lifestyle.

Now there is a choice for these “in-frequent fliers,” and they too can have the good life of at least 6” of extra legroom and early boarding at the base price of $499/year. United “went to press” with a new subscription offering, “Economy Plus,” on an annual subscription basis this past week. I say “went to press” because I was offered this service in early 2012, when my elite status had fallen 1,200 miles shy of Premier. And back in 2011, I was offered (and purchased) an annual plan to re-up my Premier Status. Let’s not forget about all of the Red Carpet Club options United offers too!

Why do we purchase these offerings? Because we get hooked to boarding first, checking bags for free, having space in the overhead compartments, and having those extra inches of legroom. Plus there is always a chance in an unexpected turn of events that we get the coveted upgrade to United First on an overnight flight to Europe in one of those heavenly beds. Lounging in style next to a famous footballer, we are rewarded for our loyalty, knowing that having premier status was the greatest decision we have ever made. And these offers keep coming: upgrading at ticket purchase time, at check-in, and through these annual plans. People are definitely purchasing these offerings and we will probably begin to see more and more of them. What if I could purchase an annual subscription to get upgraded on any, say, five flights a year? Would I do it? United, send me an offer; I am your target customer!

So what do all of these subscription offerings mean for the economy and for businesses like United? Subscriptions equate to a constant and recurring revenue stream, which leads to more accurate forecasts and models and less financial guesswork! And when these forecasts are more accurate, profits can be more attainable, downstream earnings grow and businesses become more profitable. Oh, and stock prices tend to rise. Now – come and fly the friendly skies, but remember…. it will cost you.

Kristin Hagan, Aria Systems

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