So when a friend invited her to test a new online booking site that evaluates airline seats for their comfort, she had to try it. “I care about fares,” says Morwitz, a business professor who lives in New York. “But I also care a lot about the travel experience.”
That site, Routehappy (www.routehappy.com), officially launches Friday with a lofty promise of showing you the best possible flight based on price, seat comfort and schedule. If it succeeds, it could change the way people fly.
“Consumers care about experience, even if they don’t acknowledge it,” says Robert Albert, Routehappy’s founder and chief executive. “In spite of being so publicly blase about taking commercial flights, passengers pay attention to the experience they receive.”
The Navigator: An airline happiness chart
Albert cites a recent survey by the travel consultancy Hudson Crossing, which suggests that a majority of passengers make purchasing decisions based in part on amenities and customer service. Even the type of aircraft can sway them, with 58 percent of travelers saying that it influences their decision to book a ticket.
But passengers aren’t the only ones who have been blase. For years, airlines enthusiastically embraced the idea that in economy class, a seat is a seat. Indeed, within the last generation, most seats in the back of the plane shrank to a standard 17½-inch width with 31 inches of “pitch,” or space between seats. For the average American adult, that effectively turned a transcontinental flight into a grueling ordeal and made a long-haul international flight almost unbearable.
It wasn’t until the airline industry stumbled upon the idea that it could charge more for certain economy-class seats that it slowly began to turn away from a concept that has been called “commoditization.” When airlines could extract more money for, say, an exit row seat, which is required by Federal Aviation Administration regulation to have more legroom, or to reserve an aisle seat, the concept that all airline seats are created equal started to unravel.
The transition isn’t complete, according to Hudson Crossing analyst Henry Harteveldt. It’s plainly obvious that some seats are better than others, but he says airlines need to “wake up” to that reality. “Airlines need to come clean and be honest with their travelers,” he adds. “They need to say: We want everyone to have a good experience. But some seats are better than others.”
Morwitz already knew that when she signed in to Routehappy to book a recent flight from New York to Istanbul. But the nonstop flight offered by her preferred carrier had been discontinued, and in order to stay with the airline and collect miles, she would have to connect through Amsterdam or Paris, which she didn’t want to do. Both connections required long stopovers, and the fares were expensive.