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United Airlines President Says If You're Uncomfortable In Coach, It's Your Own Fault

"Seat pitch has come down because that's what customers voted with their wallets that they wanted," said United Airlines President Scott Kirby. "I know everyone would tell you, 'I would like more seat pitch.' But the history in the airline industry is every time airlines put more seat pitch on, customers choose the lowest price." You see, oh silly passenger. Your discomfort is caused by your parsimoniousness. If you gave the airlines more money, they'd… ( More...

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Pat Tolaj 7
Lmao. Flew with a domestic airliner overseas ONCE in my entire life, and it just so happened to be United in 2013. Although I didn't have a necessarily bad experience, and the wonderful German lady in Frankfurt upgraded me to Economy Plus for free, unless I have no other alternative I will always fly with foreign airlines. They seem to put more emphasis on comfort and service. I'll be flying with Swiss this weekend. Can't wait. Wonderful service.
Stanley Stone 1
I sincerely hope you have a better flight on Swiss than we did. We had seats in front of a bulkhead, so almost zero tilt and PAX in seats ahead of us went full recline on theirs. We were also next to the head, which was incredibly noisy. The flight attendant was sympathetic, but couldn't help. Since Swiss Air went bankrupt (pretty embarrassing to the fiscally conservative Swiss government) and changed to a low cost carrier, it is pretty awful. Won't make that mistake again.
John Kilcher 2
Rule # 1 regardless of airline, the seats directly in front of a bulkhead never recline. Rule # 2, go to seat and check out the floor plan of your respective aircraft and locate the rest room locations before booking a particular seat.
Stanley Stone 1
Yep, usually use SeatGuru, but I think the flight was full or something (this was a couple of years ago).

Anyone else reading...small pitch + minimal recline + unsympathetic PAX in front = really awful ride for six hours.
Pat Tolaj 1
This will only be my second round trip with Swiss. To be honest, I thought in terms of comfort it wasn't bad, and the food was pretty good. I have definitely been in more uncomfortable planes. Although, where you sit

Seems like you may have just had a bad experience. I've been there. As a kid, I used to fly with Austrian Airlines a lot. I have had decent experiences with their past A330's, and with the 767 they fly now. The a343's were awful, but my seating arrangment on that flight was similar to yours. The one and only time I flew with that aircraft I made it a goal to not fly it again.

I hope if you ever travel with them (swiss) again, you have a better experience.
dee9bee 10
Not too much new here. It's all about expectations. When people fly on an airline like Spirit they expect to get a s--t sandwich but eventually arrive at their destination and back home safely. Passengers set the bar higher when choosing to fly on UA, AA and DL and expect more.
josh homer 8
Exactly. People gladly gave up meals for peanuts on Southwest due to cheaper tickets, then griped at the legacy carriers for no longer offering meals after they had to compete with low cost carriers. People DID vote with their wallets, and now they're mad.
David Barnes 2
Josh, you've perfectly summarized the situation. People continually said, "we'll (almost) always choose cheaper over 'better' so give us cheaper." In order to make cheaper work, something had to give. First it was meals, then it was bag fees, then it was legroom. As soon as the extra legroom seats sell out consistently, then those sections will increase in size.
deafsea 10
Dear CEO Oscar Munoz, please sack that crappy Scott Kirby, please. Thank you!
eshulze 0
CEO can't fire the board president. Only the Shareholders can.
i hope that you're not implying that there is actually transparency between the Board and the CEO.
joe milazzo 1
Deafsea didn't know that because he doesn't understand how the business world operates. The media caters to the bleeding hearts in this country. They try to insight the belief that businesses operate under good will and not to the people that invest their hard earn $$ in hopes that on day that business will yield an ROI (return on investment.)
Folks, its simple supply and demand. If you don't want to sit in coach with tight seating then don't! Nobody is forcing you to buy that ticket in coach......Suprisingly enough, there's no shortage in people buying them because if so, United would increase pitch in all seats to fill their planes
James Carlson 1
That's hilarious, thanks!

Mr. Munoz is CEO and a board member. Mr. Kirby is President. It's right there on the company's web site:
Sam Johnson 7
The auto industry had that same attitude for many years. Remember how we got tired of the crap they were making and this opened the door for overseas competition. Those from overseas gave us what we wanted and the brilliant US manufactures had to have the government bail them out. (EXCEPT FOR FORD) I hope to hell we do not do that with the airlines. Let them go broke. There will be others who will start up and offer us what we want. Their profit per flight may be down and their head honchos may not make as much money as those greedy execs at United and the others who's lives revolve around the dollars in their pockets, but they will have jobs and so will the worker bees who bust their asses to make these, so called managers, millions. Unfortunately, the only thing that matters today is the bottom line. When in hell are these morons at the top going to learn that happy customers com back unhappy customers do not.
mbazell 4
Those at the top are only concerned with their bonuses. These big mega-mergers since deregulation in the late 70's has produced higher prices, degradation of services, and a 'do more with less' mentality. Like you said our U.S. auto industry became all but extinct and only survived thanks to better foreign competition, forcing our big 3 auto makers to bring back quality. If cabotage is ever passed by Congress, in the future you'll be able to fly Singapore Airlines, Cathay, ANA, Lufthansa, El Al, and others between LAX and ORD, and the flying public would be better off and so would the U.S. based employees.
I'm retired from the airline business and I either drive or take AMTRAK when possible. I remember the 50's and 60's long before people like Ichan, Lorenzo and Wolf destroyed the airline industry.
Taylor Jones 9
The issue with this article is that it is saturated with the author's slant, riding the coattails of the "outrage culture" over United, plus general public tendency to bash airlines. Time and again, customers say one thing but actually vote with their wallets. Spirit, new Frontier, Allegiant...people won't stop spending their money there. The majors started offering lower fares aligned with those ULCCs, and people are buying them. Take Delta, for example. The ultra-restricted E Basic Economy fare. It isn't on every route or flight, but people are buying it. When DL introduced Economy comfort about 5 years ago, some people bought it but it often remained empty until the gate agent placed displaced standby pax, nonrevs, etc in those seats. DL recently made Comfort Plus a W fare "premium" cabin (which is an absolute joke) and treats it like domestic first: pay an overrated upfare, or get on the upgrade list as a frequent flier perk. The domestic F and C+ cabins remain sparsely populated while the majority of the Y seats get booked solid.

People say things like "I didn't ask for this," but, indirectly a lot of us did. We demand low fares. Well, airlines generally operate on a thin profit margin. An airplane, more or less, has a relatively fixed cost (X dollars per hour to run, for fuel, crew pay, maintenance, etc) regardless of whether there are 50 or 150 aboard. When prices went up (fuel, economy, whatever), people got upset and even flew less. Airlines tinkered with the economics of things, adding slimline seats and taking away some seat pitch, making more available seat miles. When you remove a row of F seats and add several rows of Y, that can start to help prices come down a bit. Do this across the fleet, every plane every flight every day, and it can add up to more savings for passengers.

We all vote with our wallets. From the hipsters decrying sweatshops (via text on their new iPhones...), to the passengers who say "United or Spirit are the worst airlines EVER" but continue flying on them. You might counter by saying "well yes, because premium economy or domestic first are pricey and offer little added value," and you'd be correct in your argument. But in general, when a First Class cabin ends up being 50-75% complimentary upgrades, why would an airline continue to stock every flight with meals and immense seat pitch? The frequent business travelers who either purchase F or have a high-priced Y ticket that upgrades them to F are shelling out a fair amount of money; and by adding more seats to the plane, the airline is able to offer you lower fares. Cut through the ridiculous sensationalism of the article, and it's more than apparent that those executives aren't off base.

It may be a terribly unpopular opinion, but it doesn't mean it's wrong. But, let's all go back to being outraged by the current flavor of the week.
matt jensen 11
Dear UAL Board of Directors - please fire all top management. Then go find someone else to the run the company.
Tom Lull 3
Be interested to see how Mr. Kirby reacts as people vote with their feet to foreign carriers. General impression seems to put United just ahead of Aeroflot in customer satisfaction.
John Kilcher 1
if we don't fly Delta, it is a foreign carrier for sure.
patrick baker 3
at least this guy is honest, obnoxious, but honest, arrogant, but honest. With the herd mentality of American business, especially the airline industry, no carrier seems to be first to give larger seating area to cattle car passengers in fear their load factors and average seat revenues would fall, and so would the bonus, etc. Leaving us with no other choices beyond losing weight, taking sedatives before flight, and Amtrack.
dc3orbust 3
Agreed. He stated the truth, hurtful or otherwise. As long as people keep filling the planes he will continue to be right. Anyone with any investment tools in any airline, not just UA, are happy, he keeps his position.
I'll wager my last dollar just about everyone with a 401k or other retirement plan has UA in their list somewhere.
JetDoc66 6
What an arrogant prick.
Jim Daigneau 4
Sad that it has come to this in recent years. Of all the former legacy carriers, United (UAL) seems to be leading the way downwards with their LACK of customer focus, negative attitude and generally arrogant views as expressed by top management such as Mr. Kirby. Whenever and wherever other options exist, I do my best to fly on other carriers (ie Alaska, Delta, etc.) though none are that great these days.
PS I am 99% in agreement with the comments recently posted by your other readers
You mean like before deregulation?!!
thockert 2
Take my peanuts and 1/3 can of soda away but give me more seat pitch. That's how I would vote.
David Barnes 1
Spirit Airlines: Big Front Seat
Who are all those people filling the seats on UAL? They must be uninformed. Lol.
Mr Kirby's conclusion is correct given the greed that drives him. He is definitely well schooled in driving the bottom line. Someday he and the myrid of others with greed at their center core, may come to realize the bottom line trail may not lead to long term greatness. In the mean time, he will be enjoying nice bonuses and we need to get used to being prodded along and paying for our cup of coffee.
Karl Scribner -1
The "greed" that drives him is the same as that of any business leader. Your job depends on making as much possible for the owners of your business, stockholders, by providing a service as cheaply as you can. The greed I see is the pervasive sense of entitlement that is shown expecting the airlines, or any business to act as a charity. Face it the cheap seats sell or they'd be bigger with a higher cost.
Mike Miska 2
Funny you say this as United is the most expensive domestic airline destination to destination at least where I fly.
Its service is terrible and if it weren't for the merger with Continental, its airplanes would be too old to fly. Try booking a business flight at the last minute on any airline and you will pay a first class fare and still have to pay more for a coach seat you can sit in and food that's inedible. God forbid you have to check a bag. The airline business model simply changed after deregulation when they had to compete. High fuel prices required belt tightening but it was your belt they tightened. Let's face it, airline travel is now like the bus, disgusting, and the people who run them like it that way because they know no better.
N5827P 2
In my reading of UAL organizational chart, Kirby is under Munoz and is company president, not president of the board
fef99 4
I am a long time United customer, and I have NEVER been asked about seat pitch or leg room. Get rid of this jerk.
David Barnes 3
You're asked every single time you buy your ticket: Have you ever booked Economy Plus? That's exactly how and when you're asked.

Every time you book "regular" economy, you vote against more leg room. When those Economy Plus/Comfort Plus/Main Cabin Extra/etc. seats are reliably filled with paying passengers, then those cabins will expand.
Pat Tolaj 1
Um, no. Nobody voted for anything based on the ticket they purchase. You buy your ticket based on your budget. As I mentioned before, I once flew with a domestic (United) in 2013, and was upgraded to Plus in Frankfurt on my return flight for free. Keyword is FREE. Not all of us have the luxury of dishing out the extra cash and being able to sit where ever we choose, especially when you pay in the high hundreds during the fall and winter months, and into the 1000's during the summer months for an economy seat.

It's a nice try by United. Very typical....blame the passengers. Seems to be common theme in America these days. Blame the people for everything. It really goes to show you the bubble these CEO's/President's live in these days.
mbazell 3
And now people are sorry they voted with their wallets. The new tighter, more compacted coach sections are generating more complaints than lost bags or delayed flights. Go figure!
kprichter 2
That's it then. Perhaps other airlines appreciate my business more than this funny 'president'.
The rule of any corporation is to charge absolutely as much as the market will bear (same as reducing amenities) in order to return the most to the shareholders. People forget that corporations are not charities. The shareholders are the boss.

People whine about the amenities and the fares, but the airports are jammed. We will know when we have reached the level the market will bear when people decide NOT to make that visit for Grandma's birthday and the airports are less crowded. Clearly, we have a good ways to go still to get to that point.
M20ExecDriver 1
"You get what you pay for". Think that's been around longer than the pyramids.
I only fly with JetBlue and international carriers, will not book a flight with United.

The CEO is correct, the cheapest airfare from point A to point B (4 hour flight) s the prevailing market force. So, if ABC Airlines' fare is $700.00 and XYZ Airline is $650.00 for this round trip, Airline XYZ wins!

Nothing else matters, consider (non-frequent flier):

Airline ABC - free beverages and hot meal, seat pitch 34 inches, width 19 inches, pre-seat selection with logical boarding process.

Airline XYZ - no beverage and snacks, seat pitch 30 inches, width 17 inches, Southwest style boarding process.

These characteristics have no market influence, the airlines are forced to compete with publishing the lowest fare through online booking sites.

And by the way, international airline services are trending towards US quality levels, Cathay Pacific is a horrible example. However, Japan Airlines maintains high quality of services, pioneer in "real" premium economy product.

The US carriers recently discovered this "premium economy" marketing product, perhaps a 50% fare increase for an extra inch and early boarding...
toolguy105 1
I disagree you buy what is offered. I fly the legacy carriers because I want the perks offered that the low fair carriers don't offer. When I look at United's & American's Website's I have to purchase the ticket and then upgrade to premium. Delta gives me the price up front before I commit to a flight. Maybe United should take a page out of Delta's website and allow me to see the prices of all seats before I select.

Singapore Airlines new A350 is coming from the factory with only Premium Economy seating. I'm old enough to remember that this was what economy was before you turned it into sardine can seating. Maybe Singapore Airlines has a good idea. These new aircraft are more cost efficient to fly and it is possible to offer Premium Economy at a more affordable price and still fill the plane. I know if I was on a long haul flight I would want the extra leg room. To me any flight over 2 hours should have the extra leg room.
blueashflyer 0
"customers voted for what they want"...I've NEVER asked to have less seat pitch, and pay extra for each bag, and all the other charges they come up with lately.
David Barnes 1
Customers voted every time they picked the cheapest fare over the one that offered them something extra. AA tried "More Room Throughout Coach" in the early 2000s. They couldn't charge extra for it, so why not sell more seats at the same price?

Yes, we have voted. We just don't like the results of the election.
toolguy105 1
Yes AA tried it and it failed because other carriers had cheaper fares. When all airlines were regulated the fares were the same. Airlines competed on service. IF AA tried "more legroom" at that time they would have sold out the flights. It is not that people are cheap or parsimonious they are frugal. We have been indoctrinated to believe less is the same when in many instances it is not.

In this instance passengers are paying less they get less and they complain more. Then there are the instances of "Air Rage" which was almost non-existent when passengers were not shoehorned into uncomfortable seats.
It isn't the seating. It's the pax. Hell, some of the crazies never make it to the seat.
T C 0
As certainly as Amazon has changed retail, thus sending Macy's and a host of others into a tailspin, the new carriers such as Frontier and Spirit have changed the airlines business model.

Where does that leave United? I don't fly them unless no one else is going that way when I need to go. If there is a "next" on the bankruptcy list my guess is that would be United.
That don't look promising right now. My guess is the move to Chicago will be a bigger drag than lack of customers.


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