Seat 12C 1/2

This week I attended the Global Business Travel Association convention in San Diego, and one novel topic intrigued me: the opportunity to sell half-seats on planes. I had never heard this argument, so let me explain.

The topic was presented in light of a growing trend: the sharing economy. It’s had an influence on travel at the fringes: FlightCar, Airbnb, Zipcar, etc. But not so much in the mainstream. During a general session at the convention, a panel of travel executives was asked about new sharing economy opportunities for travel. One, the CEO of a large network of travel agencies, said he’d always believed airlines should sell seats in half-increments. He had my attention with that. How would this work?

If you were seated in economy and wanted extra width, you could buy half of the middle seat. You’d be matched with someone else who wanted the same, so in essence, you would each own half of the middle seat for the flight. Reserved. Just for you two. No worrying that the last person to board the plane would be slipping in beside you. Theoretically it could be a win/win: passenger gets more room for less than premium, and the airline sells the seat at (perhaps) full fare, reduces cost of fuel with a lighter load, etc.

I thought it was a capital idea until my colleague painted this scenario: What if several seats on a flight had been sold this way. To the unaided eye, they would appear to be open. Yet, if several passengers were bumped from the flight and told it was full, wouldn’t they be a wee bit angry when their colleagues or friends on the flight reported that several seats were actually empty?

What do you think of the half-seat opportunity for airlines? The next ancillary fee or a recipe for customer revolt?