1. Business

Flights with nonreclining seats would seem to hold appeal to business travelers

Published Sep. 5, 2014

Ben Baldanza, chief executive of Spirit Airlines, does not seek out business travelers. Nor does Andrew C. Levy, president of Allegiant Air.

Though both discount airlines are prospering and adding routes in places where the major airlines have cut back service, Spirit and Allegiant market strictly to budget leisure travelers willing to put up with limited service, lots of added fees and cramped seating to get cheap fares.

"Our seats don't even recline," Baldanza said at a recent aviation conference in Las Vegas.

I snapped to attention hearing that, given the furor about the etiquette of reclining one's coach seat, and also given the realization that I seem to be now putting up with limited service, lots of fees and cramped seating, though at expensive fares, on the major airlines.

I'm pretty sure Baldanza meant no irony with his comment, despite the growing Internet clamor over an episode a day before on a United Airlines flight from Newark to Denver. There was a spat involving a passenger using a $21.95 gadget called the Knee Defender to prevent the passenger in front from reclining her seat into what he considered his personal space. She is said to have tossed a soda at him, whereupon the pilot decided to make an emergency landing in Chicago, with serious inconvenience to the more than 160 passengers.

The social media flap intensified a few days later after an American Airlines flight from Miami to Paris was diverted to Boston when a man arguing with another passenger about reclining a seat is reported to have grabbed the arm of a flight attendant who tried to intervene. The man was taken off the plane and charged with interfering with a flight crew.

So the seat-recline wars, heretofore fought mostly in simmering silence, are thrust into the open. On Twitter, one passenger noted that in a packed airplane, "the air between the back of your seat and my face is my air space."

So it would seem that an airline that has nonreclining seats as well as cheap fares might have at least some market appeal for business travelers. Neither Spirit nor Allegiant professes any interest in claiming even a small segment of that market. Nor, given limited route networks and frequencies, has that market shown any measurable interest in them.

But Ryanair, the cheap-fare, no-frills giant that helped revolutionize budget leisure travel in Europe, seems to get the idea.

Having discovered that 25 percent of its passengers are in fact on business trips, Ryanair wants a bigger share. Last week, it announced a "Business Plus" service, at higher but still discounted fares, featuring priority boarding, fast-track airport security passage and premium seats.

And no, the seats on Ryanair don't recline, either.


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