Each month, ExpertFlyer sits down with an executive in the travel industry to provide insight to changes in the landscape and how it affects the way you do business. It’s another way ExpertFlyer is providing additional information to empower the business traveler.
This month ExpertFlyer sat down with Andrew Wong, senior manager of content for SeatGuru. SeatGuru Provides seat advice for more than 700 seat maps from nearly 100 airlines, all backed by over 25,000 flier reviews. Since 2001, SeatGuru has helped more than 10 million people find the best seat before they fly.
SeatGuru turns to consumers to get the real truth on seat width, pitch, and comfort. Through the “Submit Comments” button on each aircraft page, thousands of reviews have been added to the SeatGuru database by flyers who know a great seat when they sit in one. The SeatGuru staff utilizes these comments to maintain the accuracy of airplane seat information and updates the site with both user-submitted reviews and independent research.
“Airlines have caught onto the fact that consumers do value seats with extra legroom and space.”
– Andrew Wong, senior content manager, SeatGuru
We at ExpertFlyer.com can certainly appreciate the value that your service brings to travelers. Please give us an overview of how SeatGuru makes traveling by air a more pleasurable experience and how different an airline seat can be?
Traveling by air can be stressful and passengers are keen to get as much value and comfort from their experience as possible. Quite simply, all airline seats are not created equal. SeatGuru equips travelers with the knowledge of the best seats to choose and equally important, seats and sections to definitely avoid. As passengers, we have little control if our flight will be on time, if the crew will be hospitable or if the food will be good. Seating is mostly in our control, so we should take advantage and control the variables that we can.
Airline seats can vary greatly within the same aircraft type and even within the same class. There will always be exceptional seats, such as those in exit rows or those missing a seat ahead of it – these will always be the prized seats. However, there can also be large sections of seats that are simply better than others. For example, in some A330’s and A340’s all rows in the last quarter of the plane have 1-2 inches less of seat pitch. Frequent travelers will know that every inch counts and can make the difference between being able to stretch out or even cross legs. We’ll let passengers know where both the best seats and better seats will be located.
Aside from coach vs. business or first class and aisle vs. center seats, are consumers really that concerned with their seat assignments?
Definitely – consumers are concerned about their seating. I think it is general knowledge that exit rows and some bulkhead rows are typically the best and consumers have caught on to this. So much so, airlines are exploiting this preference and charge for these ‘preferred’ seats. However, the best seats don’t necessarily have to be at a bulkhead or at an exit row but can be in various places throughout the cabin if you know where to look. Over the years we’ve received over 25,000 comments from users on our more than 700 aircraft maps. Not only are consumers concerned about seat preferences, they are observant, engaged and willing to share this information with other travelers. If a consumer is not concerned about their seating, they should be. Getting a good seat is the best way to start off a flight.
In your role as senior content manager, what are some of the seat map changes you are seeing and are they better or worse for consumers?
For premium cabins, we have seen some of the best developments ever. Undoubtedly, business class today is even better than First class was ten years ago. Airlines are going entirely flat and introducing innovative configurations such as herringbone and staggered which give premium passengers direct access to the aisle and increased privacy. In many cases, airlines sacrifice capacity with these changes, but the consumer benefits with a superior product. This is definitely better for consumers.
Premium Economy has really developed over the years to the extent that it puts pressure on airlines to up their offering in business class. Premium Economy is now offering more space and more features than ever before. In some cases, airlines are introducing Premium Economy for the first time, which gives a great new option to travelers looking for some more comfort without upgrading entirely to business class. This is a positive development
Economy class has probably experienced the fewest innovations in recent years, including one new aircraft type like the A380. Although not surprised, I was disappointed that none of the outlandish features speculated for the A380 ever materialized, including social areas in economy or even fitness areas!
In general, instead of increased seat pitch or new configurations in Economy, airlines have instead introduced more comfortable seats and notably seatback entertainment. These changes are definitely welcome in Economy class but we could still use more innovation. Air New Zealand’s new SkyCouch is definitely a step in the right direction. Some airlines have introduced or continued to offer an Economy “plus” cabin, which is not a different class of service but Economy seats with extra legroom or decreased density for a nominal fee. This is a nice development and an extra option for passengers.
Do you see the recent trend by airlines to “sell” premium and bulkhead seats in coach as something we will see more of in the future?
Unfortunately, I think this will be a trend for the foreseeable future. As I mentioned earlier, airlines have caught onto the fact that consumers do value seats with extra legroom and space. Airlines struggle to make as much money as possible and this is an easy revenue stream for them. We’ve seen this trend not only in the U.S. but also in Canada, Europe and Asia. It has caught on because it works and consumers are willing to pay.
In my experience, however, checking-in online exactly 24 hours in advance or whatever the airline requires can often secure these preferred seats. In most cases, all seats are up for grabs at the time of online check-in and when users haven’t been willing to pay for them, they can be selected for free.
If so, how will that change the benefits of using SeatGuru, if at all?
If the trend to charge for ‘preferred’ seats continues, I still think SeatGuru remains as relevant as ever. What could be worse than paying for a ‘preferred’ seat only to find out that it is missing a window or there are power units under the seat that restrict legroom? The airline is not going to tell you this. Airlines often charge more for bulkhead rows. Personally, I am not a fan of bulkheads: 1) they have more knee room but not necessarily more legroom; 2) they are usually by the toilets; and 3) they attract infants because of the bassinets. The SeatGuru seat maps provide these warnings and a consumer can judge for themselves.
When it comes to seat comfort and popularity, is there a particular seat type or location that is most sought after and how can one compete and win that seat assignment?
Exit rows are typically the most popular seats as they usually guarantee more legroom. These are probably the most popular, especially as they are the most obvious. However, I think some of the most prized seats are often those with a seat missing in front of it. This can often be found on most configurations of the Boeing 777 and also on the A380. These seats have lots of extra legroom and no seat will recline into you. For business class, wherever ‘mini-cabins’ of one to three rows are available, I think these are the best for quiet and service.
There are several ways to ‘compete’ for these prized seats. Passengers with frequent flyer status can often reserve these seats for free and in advance – an extra reason to keep your business with your favorite airline and their alliance. In some cases, airlines will allow pre-selection of seats at the time of reservation and this is a good chance to do it. Usually exit row and bulkhead seats are blocked until the day of departure, which makes the less obvious seats, like those with a missing seat ahead of it, a good target. Do online check-in and do it the second online check-in opens. Look at the SeatGuru maps to know which seat you are targeting, log-in to your booking and conclude the selection as fast as possible – there are others doing the exact same thing. This has always worked for me.
Finally, be open to actually paying the extra fee to reserve a preferred seat or even checking out how much it is to upgrade to the next class of service or to an enhanced economy “plus” type of seat. If you’re flying long-haul, paying an extra $50-75 could really be worth it.
How can ExpertFlyer subscribers work in tandem with SeatGuru to maximize their ability to get the “best seat in the house”?
ExpertFlyer is a terrific website and I believe we share many of the same users who are knowledgeable and savvy. Our partnership to overlay our commentary and color-coding is a great combination. ExpertFlyer subscribers will be able to check live seat availability and see SeatGuru’s commentary all in the same application. SeatGuru will be able to display the best seats and with ExpertFlyer’s unique access to availability, subscribers will easily be able to judge their first, second and third best choice.
Which airlines host the most flier-friendly seat maps and comfy seats?
Thai Airways strikes me as one of the best airline sites with seat maps. It is well laid out and their maps are straight from their technical department which means every possible piece of information is on their map, including different seat pitches across the cabin and even details where the magazine racks are located! In terms of comfort, Thai Airway’s A340-500 scores the highest in our seat pitch comparison table at a whopping 36” pitch in Economy.
In my travels, I would have to say that Swiss International has the best First Class seat; I would give a tie to Air New Zealand and British Airways for their business class seats; Virgin Atlantic for Premium Economy; and Qatar Airways for their Economy Class seat.
What’s your favorite seat? Why?
My favorite seat would be British Airways Club World, seat 60K on the upper deck. This seat has so much privacy and it’s so quiet on the upper deck. I’d say it’s better than their present First Class and there is just so much space, it’s incredible.