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Do Airline CEOs Fly Coach? The Wall Street Journal Takes Delta and United to Task

Do Airline CEOs Fly Coach? The Wall Street Journal Takes Delta and United to Task
Sharon Hsu

As coach seats grow increasingly more cramped, carriers continue to insist that passengers have enough room. The Wall Street Journal’s Middle Seat travel column recently asked the CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines to back up these claims with action. Two of the CEOs sat down in coach with the WSJ in order to defend their decisions.

Ed Bastian, Delta’s CEO, and Doug Parker of American agreed to sit down in coach for interviews with the Wall Street Journal this month. Both men are 6-foot-3-inches tall, making for a snug fit in their middle seats on each carrier’s configured Boeing 777-200, even without other passengers around to jostle for the armrests or to recline the seat in front of them. Delta and American have both set up their rows in the 777s such that the seat pitch (the distance between one spot on a seat to the same spot on the seat in front of it) in coach measures approximately 31 inches, though Delta has one more inch of seat width than American because they configure nine seats across a row to American’s ten.

Bastian and Parker both claim to fly coach regularly. Bastian told the WSJ that he typically takes coach for his domestic travel and that Delta recently passed a policy requiring director-level employees to fly coach for any work-related flight under three hours. Parker noted that he takes a coach seat when there are no first-class or extra-legroom seats available, estimating that this occurrence takes place about one in every three flights.

While the CEOs pledged that seats in coach won’t get any smaller, they also pushed back against the idea that passengers are currently too cramped, stating that their airlines offer many options (at an additional price) for those who need or want more legroom.

“The customers that really value additional space have a lot more options on us,” Parker told the WSJ, noting that their 777 has 66 extra-legroom coach seats as well as larger premium economy and business class seats. Bastian similarly said that passengers who desire more space can buy it on Delta flights.

Critics have long been suspicious that airlines purposefully make coach seats uncomfortable in order to get travelers to pay a premium for more space, and commenters on this WSJ article made it abundantly clear that Parker’s and Bastian’s comments do little to assuage their doubts. They also slammed United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, for refusing the interview entirely.

[Photo: AP]

View Comments (14)

14 Comments

  1. am1108

    July 25, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    IMO, Oscar took the honorable path by avoiding this stunt. I’m sure coach/economy will get worse as time goes on, especially if seat manufactures create horrible seats that force you to partially stand. These jokers are wasting peoples time, they should fly coach all the time, not just for flights 3 hours or under.

  2. WebTraveler

    July 25, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    “Parker noted that he takes a coach seat when there are no first-class or extra-legroom seats available, estimating that this occurrence takes place about one in every three flights.”

    Really now….or he could suck it up and ride in the middle seat all the time and show us how it is done.

  3. BMGRAHAM

    July 26, 2018 at 4:24 am

    I have no objection to paying more for a better economy seat. My issue with Delta is that unless you are sitting in the front row, Comfort + (and especially the middle seat) is not comfortable. At least get Comfort+ right.

  4. peterk814

    July 26, 2018 at 4:48 am

    This is a business at the end of the day. Fly a different carrier if you don’t think there is enough room or pony up more money. These aren’t government owned entities and they operate in a country that isn’t socialist

  5. Travel & Leisure

    July 26, 2018 at 5:24 am

    So true. Maybe they switch airlines once they get to an international hub, to catch the long haul flight. In addition, did they ask about private jet flights? All of this said, it doesn’t matter WHY it’s happening. It could be the weight, increase the number of seats for revenue, etc. Fact is, riders have to buy the seat they want, but not everyone can afford that.

  6. Berniecfc

    July 26, 2018 at 6:02 am

    How brave of Bastian and Parker to use Coach for one of every three flights. You know when they check-in there will miraculously be a bulkhead aisle seat or aisle exit row seat available for them. Wish I could have their luck when I’m squeezed into coach.

  7. Z1Flyer

    July 26, 2018 at 6:52 am

    It’s not just Oscar… I’ve seen other line level United’s employees who don’t fly coach OR board with the regular public. Recent example, managed to make it off the upgrade list to be in first class with at least two uniformed United employees (suspect a third who was talking to these two who wasn’t in uniform). Why do I care? Because its hard to get off the upgrade list and someone I was travelling with on same trip didn’t make it off the list. so they could sit there. Also, on a layover I overhead the United employees sitting next to me talking about all the places they’ve been able to go thanks to United and how they only go if they can go first class, that they don’t fly coach. Not good enough for them. Lastly, ever notice all the crew tagged bags and United employees in Priority boarding group 1. I always see them and wonder how they get to board first ahead of all the regular flying public. It especially bugs me when the gate attendant is on the intercom stating it’s a full flight and anyone in Group 4 better come check their bags now. Short story, they need to figure out who they are flying for and cut out this attitude of United employees first and paying customers second. I’m all for giving hard working, deserving employees some perks, but not at the instead of the people keeping them all employed.

  8. tbuccelli

    July 26, 2018 at 7:36 am

    It is not just the LEGROOM, it is the width – not at the seat itself, but at the shoulders. Measure shoulders – 18″ is not that large.

  9. POatParker

    July 26, 2018 at 8:18 am

    They are all full of shit! Most people who fly coach cannot even afford to fly coach, let alone pay extra for more room. Also, put them is a center seat on the sunny side of the plane, between two obese people (one on each side, sit them on the tarmac in 100+ degree heat for 3 hours, and turn off the engines to same fuel (as is Parkers policy), without being served water for 2 hours, everyone dripping in sweat and sharing it with each other, ready to pass out from heat stroke, and let’s see which of them says, “yep, our coach seats are good enough!” Probably all of them, because they are all full of shit! Regardless this scenario has happened to me twice this summer. YOU CANNOT TREAT PEOPLE LIKE ANIMALS!! Eventually, they will turn around and bite back! Parker is the worst of the bunch! He is screwing his employees, and his passengers! He is the most noncustomer-centric CEO, there is!

  10. POatParker

    July 26, 2018 at 8:22 am

    They are all full of shit! Most people who fly coach cannot even afford to fly coach, let alone pay extra for more room. Also, put the CEO’s in a center seat on the sunny side of the plane, between two obese people (one on each side, sit them on the tarmac in 100+ degree heat for 3 hours, and turn off the engines to same fuel (as is Parkers policy), without being served water for 2 hours, everyone dripping in sweat and sharing it with each other, ready to pass out from heat stroke, and let’s see which of them says, “yep, our coach seats are good enough!” Probably all of them, because they are all full of shit! Regardless this scenario has happened to me twice this summer. YOU CANNOT TREAT PEOPLE LIKE ANIMALS!! Eventually, they will turn around and bite back! Parker is the worst of the bunch! He is screwing his employees, and his passengers! He is the most noncustomer-centric CEO, there is! The sooner he goes, and joins Immelt, the better AA will be!!!!

  11. Superjeff

    July 26, 2018 at 9:40 am

    The problem is partially one of the airlines’ own making. There is no alternative. You can’t often can’t get extra legroom seating because its either given away to status flyers (I take advantage of this often myself), and the airfare situation is dynamic, so you can’t even determine what the cost is. If you’re not a business traveler who is less price sensitive, you can’t simply expect that Economy Plus (UA), Comfort + (Delta) or Main Cabin Extra (AA) are $x.xx more than plane economy. And now, with consolidation, there are even fewer choices. I think that nothing will happen without government stepping in with minimum standards for pitch, padding, and service levels (i.e., long domestic flights like interior U.S. to/from Hawaii should be required to offer meal service). Give the airlines a chance to compete at least partially on service rather than price. I’m sure there is SOME market for something a bit better.

    Jeff

  12. rthib

    July 26, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    ” Most people who fly coach cannot even afford to fly coach, let alone pay extra for more room”
    So the solution is to have the government force them to give everyone more room, which will reduce the number of passengers and increase the cost.
    Then people will complain that ticket prices are too high.
    If you want more space, pay for it – but don’t ask everyone else on the plane to pay for your extra space. It is a choice.

  13. jone0613

    July 26, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    I do not understand what everyone is upset about? One of the commenters above @POatParker seems especially miffed that the seating is tight on a for profit airline?!?! Both CEOs gave great responses which were to purchase more leg room. If you can’t afford it, then fly in sardine class. Any business operates this way. I made the decision long ago at 6’4” to only buy first class tickets. Problem solved. Instead of complaining buy better seats. If you can’t afford it, that’s hardly the airline’s fault.

  14. POatParker

    July 26, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    rthib
    My comments are NOT about costs for all, and profits! At what point do you say enough?! 10″ widths, 0% rake, 5″ leg room?
    My comments are about treating people with dignity, NOT like Parker treats them on AA, as animals! He has more seats than other carriers with similar planes. And he continues to tighten the screws, Parker has crossed the line of screwing peoples dignity for profits!
    Besides, they can always add more seats by adding more planes and flights in key markets! I would think that would more than compensate for the row of seat that should go away inside every S-80, 737, etc., even with the lower prices from the increase in supply!
    BTW, I never said anything about government involvement. But now that you mention it ….. if it saves human dignity for everyone who flies…….!

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