What wouldn’t you do for a cheaper plane ticket? This.

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A new survey suggests airline passengers would give up bathrooms, carry-on luggage and even the ability to sit, in exchange for a discount.

Boxever just released a fun poll that’s sure to give the free marketers and airline apologists a little ammo in their misguided, anti-consumer arguments.

So why do I care? Because I don’t want to see these numbers, which are strategically timed to coincide with the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Bill’s release, to be used as battering rams for the wrongheaded rebuttals, persuading passengers that they don’t deserve to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect.

This is a debate that has nothing to do with free markets and everything to do with safety and human dignity. But before we get there, let’s have a look at the numbers.

Boxever says it surveyed more than 500 “travelers,” although it declines to say whether they are air travelers or how often they fly. It found that “many deal-seeking travelers are willing to give up basic in-flight amenities for cheaper tickets.”

That includes:

    • Access to in-flight movies, magazines and music (73%).
    • Drink services (49%)
    • Boarding zone (board the plane last) (48%)
    • Seat size/leg room (19%)
    • Carry-on luggage (18%)
    • Bathrooms (8%)
    • A seat in favor of standing room (8%)

I can already hear some of you going: “Ya see, Chris! We’re asking for it!”

Well, not really.

Remember the old trial lawyer saying: “Never ask a question that you don’t already know the answer to?” I think that’s what’s going on here.

Boxever knew there’d be enough cheapskates out there to ask for standing seats and bathroom-free planes. It also knows what air travelers really want: Free first class seats. (If you want to keep that dream alive, head on over to your favorite credit card shill site or mileage-worshipping blog, and have at it.)

The Boxever study’s authors must also know this. They surely also know that just because a select few say they want it doesn’t mean they’ll buy it. They must also know that just because we want it doesn’t mean it’s safe — or right.

After all, there was a market for substandard, window-free apartments before the enactment of the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901, and we can all agree such a law is necessary, even if there’s a market for slum housing. And people bought cars without seatbelts before Chapter 301 of the Motor Vehicle Safety Standard became law in 1968, but we can now agree that this one-time option is the right thing.

Right?

I know the answer to that question. Most of the readers of this site do, too. But some people still think minimum seat standards interfere with a free market. They also think that further shrinking legroom, eliminating amenities, and even forcing people to stand, is the free market at its best.

That’s nonsense.

What if we turned the question around? What if we asked what you’d be willing to pay for a humane amount of space or for clean, functioning bathrooms, friendly service, or for the ability to check a bag on a plane? I think we know the answer, because airlines like Southwest and JetBlue, which are slightly less awful than their competitors, are doing well by advertising their “Transparency” and promising to “Bring humanity back to air travel.”

Bottom line: The Boxever survey only proves some penny-pinchers would do anything for a deal, hypothetically. But let them spend a few hours strapped into that too-small seat, with no bathroom to use, and then let’s have a conversation.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • Rebecca

    All I can say is that I’m not sitting next to the person that didn’t pay to use the bathroom. What if they have an accident?

  • Matt

    Is there a link to the survey or results. Hard to know what to think about how it might or might not be used without actually see what it says. First question is always how did they determine their sample.

    Also not sure what frequent flyer miles has to do with any of this.

  • sirwired

    Well, their surveys likely aren’t any less valid than your own, which you have been known to cite in articles.

    However, given how large, say, Ryanair, Spirit, et al, are, I’d say that asserting there’s lots of people that will sacrifice comfort, customer service, etc. is not insignificant.

  • Jeff W.

    Interesting in that you mentioned JetBlue and their promise to “Bring humanity back to air travel.” Was there not an article earlier this week that has you calling them for adding more rows to the plane and shrinking seat pitch?

    But to your point, you can always ask a question in a certain way to get the results you want. However, it is a reality that there is a segment of the population that will endure any “torture” so that they can save a dollar or two. And unfortunately, without that savings, some of those people cannot afford the price of a ticket. Just have to make sure their voices do not carry the day.

  • Patrica

    YUp. Absolutely, the first question is WHO did they sample… second question: How did they word the questions? etc. etc. Third question: what method used for collection of answers? Were they open ended of forced choice answers?? lots of questions

  • Pat

    The survey must have taken at a Spirit Airlines gate.

  • Bill___A

    Surveys like this are often rubbish. Reminds me of when they did surveys which compelled them to make “new coke”. That didn’t work out very well at all, despite the promising surveys.
    I’ve also come to realize that a lot of “customer endorsements” are rubbish too. Companies seek out those who are going to be favorable and go from there, it is not realistic.

  • LostInMidwest

    Interesting. Nothing surprises me anymore – just how low humans can go especially stopped surprising me.

    One thing about Government legislating seat size … I have no idea where did contrarians get the idea that price will be higher. I saw calculations showing how roughly 28% of the seats would be lost and, therefore, ticket price would rise 35%. I call BS. Making that calculation is pretty dumb, if you ask me. If you believe that calculation, then you should also believe that flying 600 miles would cost twice more than flying 300 miles. It wasn’t long ago when the price of a flight Midwest-Dallas on a “wrong” carrier costed actually more than flying Midwest-Italy.

    Oh, I forgot to ask. Can you show me where in the Consitution or Bill Of Rights is the right to fly granted? I went with search in both browser and Adobe PDF reader and I couldn’t find it. Could it be that it is not there? And, if it isn’t, why should we care that there would be people left who cannot afford to fly if seats became suitable for human beings and not cattle? People who cannot afford to spend more for flying can certainly drive to their destination. Or take a high-speed train.

  • KanExplore

    Elliott represents the interests of some consumers, against the obvious preferences of others. He’s entitled to his views, and he has hypothetical followers, but lots of people vote otherwise with their wallets.

  • KanExplore

    “Favorite credit card shill sites” indeed. I see three three ads for credit card companies and one for a hotel loyalty program as I scroll this very page.

  • David___1

    So… 8% would fly standing. Which means 92% won’t. Go to a major league baseball game in a city like Boston. Most games are sold out. People buy ‘standing room only’ tickets. This article somehow seems to imply that the 8%, the standing room only crowd, proves that none of us wants to sit. Except 92% do want seats. And in those major league parks? They keep the seats because it’s what the customers want.
    Something also worth noting: 19% would give up legroom. Mark Twain said “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” The other side? 81% said they won’t. So, let’s try using these statistics for what they really say. The only place where a majority of people say they’d give up something is for movies and entertainment services. It’s close for drinks and boarding times, both are within whatever margin of error exists in the survey. So let’s take these statistics for what they really say. The majority of people want a minimum level of service that includes legroom, carry on luggage, and a bathroom. Stop complaining about what others might say and use these statistics for what they mean. We are NOT asking for less legroom. Some are, but not the majority. Change the debate. If some dumbass says “see, people are looking for less legroom”, well, NO, THEY ARE NOT! Yesterday I flew back from Paris to Boston. That “Coach Comfort” section on Delta was probably about 20 rows on a 757. It means that yes, people like me are willing to pay more for extra space. So change the debate. Some will say “this is the free market working”. I don’t disagree. But Chris, perhaps you need to stop complaining about this argument and change the debate. The reality is the we, regular fliers, are willing to pay more for a little more comfort and this survey supports that argument.

  • jim6555

    A high speed train in the US? The closest thing that we have to high speed rail are the Northeast Corridor Acela trains which operate at an average speed of about 100 mph. Trains in Europe and Asia are more than twice as fast.

  • BMG4ME

    I believe the results of this survey. What would happen is that after a short while those who voted for all these things would start complaining about all the things missing that they voted to give up.

    This is exactly what has happened up until now. People wanted cheap fares, they got them by flying low fare airlines, which the legacy airlines were then forced to emulate, thus giving lousy standard seats for all, with whomever we fly. Then after a short while they wanted all the perks they got when they could occasionally afford to fly when fares were higher.

    I don’t mind paying more for better seats if I am traveling for myself on an occasional basis. Where it becomes an issue is when traveling for business, if I fly a lot but not quite enough to get elite status. Thankfully in my case I do have elite status, but if I didn’t, I’d have to be paying for better seats out of my own pocket even though someone else is asking me to fly, the reason being that businesses are also taking advantage of the cheap fares (which weren’t originally intended for businesses to use) and most of the time the businesses are not paying for the better seats. Then it becomes quite pricey.

  • pauletteb

    I once received a survey from the NRA (talk about the wrong mailing list!). As I started to respond for the fun of potentially skewing the survey results, I quickly realized that the questions were worded in such a way that no matter how I answered, I was “supporting” their views.

  • John McDonald

    all this talk about saddle seats or standing is just talk, as all aircraft are certified to carry a maximum number of passengers. Having saddle seats, does not necessarily mean you can carry more passengers.
    Eg. if a B737 or A320 is ceritifed by manufacturer to carry 180 passengers maximum, it doesn’t mean, if you remove galleys & some of the toilets you can carry more. If legroom is reduced eg. with saddle seats, it means that somewhere else on aircraft ie. front, some seats can have more legroom, eg. business class.