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Easy does it

After careful consideration, easyJet has finally introduced allocated seating across its network. Alexandra Lennane finds out what the benefits are

We all know the drill. Book a low-cost flight, and if you are  with friends, or in a rush at the other end, you fight your way to the front of the queue at the gate, elbows out, bags at dawn.


And then you see the bus. At least you didn’t pay for speedy boarding, you think.


Well, this is no longer the case on one of Europe’s largest carriers. Over the past few months, easyJet has been quietly rolling out allocated seating across its fleet, a process which was completed at the end of November.


It has been a long journey for the 17-year old carrier, which took 18 months to consider and plan the new scheme. The more cynical – or at least those who know the low-cost sector well – will ask: how can easyJet boost revenues or cut costs through seat allocation?  Isn’t that always the first reason for change with an LCC?


Well, according to Andy Dobson, EMEA partner at Aviate Consulting, which worked with easyJet on the project, it has more of an indirect benefit to the carrier.


“EasyJet’s customers have been asking for it for quite some time,” he says. “The feedback around the boarding process has been consistently one of the lower scoring areas, and one of the most stressful parts of the flight for passengers. EasyJet has taken this on board, and done a huge amount of work to assess it. As a result, it thinks passengers are more likely to use easyJet in the future.”


EasyJet had three main tenets which could not be broken. Firstly, seating allocation after the initial cost of development must have no additional operational cost. Secondly, the revenues it received from its now-defunct speedy boarding product had to be maintained. “It had to be done the low-cost way,” says Dobson, who worked on the creation, delivery, trial and roll-out of the programme. “The expectation is that revenues will be flat compared with speedy boarding. There was some investment in the delivery and a cost attached to that, but the process itself had to be done at no additional cost. That is possible through leveraging technology.


“It is a common misconception that seating allocation is always a revenue-generating opportunity,” he adds. “EasyJet is focusing on the customer and trying to give them what they want.”


While some low-cost carriers do use seating allocation to generate revenues, easyJet’s scheme allows the customer to pay to take control of their seating. Dobson makes the point that even if a group of friends or family are travelling together, the technology will do its best to ensure that they sit together even if they haven’t paid for the privilege – something, he says, that not all carriers do.


The other sticking point across the low-cost sector is aircraft utilisation – effectively, a good on-time performance and thus quick turnaround times – the final key tenet that the carrier said must not be affected.


“We have seen no evidence of a change in turnaround times during the trials,” acknowledges Dobson, “but easyJet is mindful that it needs to correctly manage customer behaviour. As passengers get more familiar with the process, their behaviour might change and they may not see the need to get to the gate as early.”

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