We could say that temporarily, an airline becomes our landlord when we buy their “real estate.” And as a landlord, they’ve created different “neighborhoods.”
Airplane Real Estate
On American Airlines you can fly Premium Economy. Meanwhile, the Delta version is Premium Select, United offers Premium Plus, and Virgin Atlantic is just Premium.
What they all have in common is location. According to Travel and Leisure, your premium seat will be somewhere between coach and business. Then, in addition to your more prestigious location, you get five to seven inches more legroom and a wider seat. As for the expense, it can cost double economy but 65 percent less than business class. Premium Economy does have other perks but they are not about the “real estate.”
Another option is Economy Plus (aka Comfort+ and Main Cabin Extra). Here, Travel and Leisure tells us that you are in the main cabin but you get a better seat. Placed at the front of the main cabin, the seat could be wider and maybe have some “plush.”
Then perhaps with the worst “real estate” and the cheapest tickets, we can take advantage of Basic Economy. With what has been called “Economy minus,” you board last and probably wind up with the least desirable seats in the rear. And, if it’s United, you cannot bring a full size carry-on.
So, would you agree that, moving from basic to plus, to premium economy, business class and first class, we have our landlord airline differentiating their real estate?
Our Bottom Line: Ownership
If our seat is our “real estate” then we can ask what property we’ve “rented” for the trip. No one quite agrees. Some believe we possess the space between our seat and the one in front of us. Consequently, a reclining traveler is entering our property. Those who disagree point out that, having paid for a reclining seat, we can do it. Who gets the arm rest is also disputable as are the rights to raise and lower the shade.
As economists, though, we can all agree that clearly defined and preserved property rights are crucial in a market economy. They are just a little fuzzy on airplanes.
My sources and more: This Atlantic article inspired today’s post while Travel and Leisure had the details. However, I also recommend this The New Yorker description of the airlines’ “calculated misery” and Mine, the perfect book on the blurry lines of ownership. Finally, we had more to say about reclining in this econlife post.