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American Airlines Just Made A Small Change To Its Rules. It Could Have A Big Effect On Passengers’ Self-Control

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Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Airlines want you to be loyal.

They also want you to pay more and more every time you fly.

Things that used to be free now cost quite a lot. Why, I’ve seen economy seats for sale for $100 or more.

It’s a wonderful way to make you feel you’re getting a good deal and then sliding that good deal out from under you.

Another fine sleight of handsome accounting has been the creation of Basic Economy.

This attempts to make your Economy seat sound quite inexpensive. 

Really, it’s a way to make you loathe all the restrictions that come with the price so much that you’ll pay more for a regular Economy seat. 

Some airlines have friendlier Basic Economy restrictions than others. 

United‘s is the worst. It doesn’t even allow Basic Economy passengers to use the overhead bins. For free, at least.

So there you are, with no ability to upgrade, you’re the last to board, you get the worst seat on the plane and changes to your itinerary aren’t allowed.

What’s not to adore?

Now it’s experimenting with another relaxation. 

I wonder, however, how relaxed this will leave some passengers. In the end, that is.

Some passengers — perhaps those driven by corporate rules to buying Basic Economy seats — might offer a grunt of joy. 

There’s little worse than beginning a business trip by waiting to find out precisely which awful middle seat the airline will give you.

Will it be right at the back? Or at least one row from the back? And wait, you have a connection and the flight’s already delayed?

This way at least, Basic Economy passengers might — in theory — be able to reserve appreciably better seats.

And when I say reserve, I mean buy.

Please imagine, then, the near future this presages. 

While the least attractive seats on the plane can often still come for free, soon every single seat will have a price. An additional price.

Which means that American — and other airlines, of course — will try even harder to see just how much money it can squeeze out of passengers and at what point.

Currently, you see, Basic Economy passengers don’t pay for the most dreadful seat on the plane.

What if, in a very short time, even that seat will be, say, $15? Or no, let’s call it $20.

Or how about this? Let’s call it the Mystery Seat and charge $25. Or, who knows, $40.

All this would, naturally, drive up the price of other, better seats to even greater heights of fancy. 

Fancy a nice window seat for $125? Oh, go on. That price won’t be here for long, you know. And look, the worst seat on the plane now costs $35, so this is a really good deal.

It would also drive up the ire-poised tension you feel every time you have to book a flight.

So many airline moves revolve around what (the airline thinks) passengers will tolerate.

In essence, then, when you book your Basic Economy flight on American you’ll have to make a more and more convoluted calculation about the price that works for you.

Slightly more important to the airline, of course, is the price that works for it.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

Source: Inc.com