Consumer Trends

ESo: $5 Empty Seat Option from Airlines is Smart Brand Utility

The flight’s not full and you can pay a little extra for the seat next to you to be empty.

Smart for airlines, smart for travellers.  Airlines that have signed up for Optiontown, a site selling add-on infight options for a range of (mostly) low cost airlines, including Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), Air Europa, Air Asia. AeroMexico, and Vietnam Airlines are making money from selling an Empty Seat Option (ESo) – unsold seat space for travellers who want a little elbow room.  Low cost regional Indian airline, SpiceJet is now offering ESo.

It works like this – when buying a seat online, you prepay an additional fee (dependant on seat capacity) – from about $5 US dollars (Estonian airlines), for one or two empty seats next to your seat, and then an email is  sent to you 1-3 days before departure to confirm your empty seats. Otherwise, the empty seat price is fully refundable if not assigned to you.

Whilst this can be seen as another wheeze from low cost airlines to extract add-on extras; this is an example of brand utility that big airlines could offer – a win/win for all. Why doesn’t every airline offer this brand utility?


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Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

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