07:29:10 am on
Monday 15 Jul 2024

High Density Advice
David Simmonds

I read, the other week an announcement, from WestJet Airlines, that it is going to operate a new “ultra-low-cost carrier” late this year, with a certain amount of puzzlement. The company plans to acquire ten new Boeing planes configured to WestJet’s specifications as “high-density.” How can seating possibly get even denser than the sardine class seating currently offered to economy class passengers?

Might the creative use of space lead to other changes?

It will be interesting, in a macabre sort of way, to see how the company manages to cram in the extra seats. Will the planes look like ancient Greek triremes, with three stacked floors of seating? Will they make creative use of what otherwise might be the so-called luggage compartment or the wheel wells? Will the seating now be on benches, more like church pews, though with seatbelts, than chairs with armrests?

WestJet no doubt has a plan and it sounds confident. “The complete unbundling of services and products in order to lower fares for the price-sensitive traveler has created [the ultra-low cost carrier] category and our new airline will provide Canadians a pro-competitive, cheap and cheerful flying experience from a company with a [verified] track record,” says the press release.

Bundling airline services in a cheap and cheerful way.

Now the wording in the press release is interesting. “The complete unbundling of services and products” indicates that not only will WestJet try to get a higher density per planeload, but also that it will look at all the services and products passengers who pay economy fares take for granted, and charge for them if they are used. Doing that, in a way that it remains “cheap and cheerful,” will be WestJet’s challenge. So let’s offer WestJet some unsolicited suggestions as to what it could charge passengers.

The first place is seating, of course. If you are obliged to sit on a bench, as I intimated above, then there will no doubt come a point during your trip at which you have desperate need for a cushion or a spell in a respite chair. WestJet could provide respites at a charge, which would increase as the flight progresses.

The next place is luggage. Everyone tries to avoid checking baggage, because it costs to do so. So why is cabin baggage free? Why not charge a fee for each piece of luggage brought on board, even it’s a purse, even if it fits under the seat in front of you?

This leads us to the next place, food and drink. Most cafeterias don’t let you bring in your own food. Why doesn’t WestJet follow suit and force people to buy from its in-flight menu? It’s not WestJet’s fault if people haven’t had the foresight to eat before boarding.

If WestJet to remain cheap and cheerful, it should probably retain the ritual free snack. I suggest, however, that it stop giving everyone three pretzels wrapped as an individual serving. Instead, just pass around a party-sized bag or two, so that those travelers who were pretzel lovers could eat their fill and those who weren’t wouldn’t feel cheated out of a benefit. It would be ecologically sensible: according to NASA statistics, it could save enough plastic wrapping to reach from here to the moon and back six times.

That takes us to the more sensitive topic of “facilities.” Greater density will mean greater demand. Perhaps WestJet could charge $X per minute to use the facilities, maybe multiplied by the number of people in the lineup. It could charge a special extra fee for those wanting to jump the queue.

In light of the unfortunate recent event in Chicago, it might also be possible to offer passengers insurance against being dragged off a plane. Such insurance might be popular, so popular, though, that if everyone bought it, it wouldn’t work. Then you would have to offer super-premium insurance, which would give you super-priority protection against drag-off. If everyone up-graded, then you would market platinum-priority protection and so on.

Other, not so farfetched ideas might include a “hysterics contingency surcharge” for taking a child up to four years old on the plane. A “bothersome customer” fee for using the call button to summon a flight attendant, although life and death calls could justify a waiver; a “messy flyer” charge for those who leave detritus behind; a “priority deplaning” charge for those who want to get off the plane quickly, and a “move it, granny” fee for people who slow down traffic.

If circumstances become desperate, WestJet crew could generate revenue by resorting to annoyance tactics, like repeating in flight safety demonstrations, goading a known nervous flyer or having the captain go over the intercom and ask for help figuring out where he is, geographically, until someone yells “enough” and pays them to stop. After all, you have a captive audience. This method does, have a potential publicity downside.

WestJet faces a huge challenge.

When you think about it, WestJet has set itself a tough challenge. It must offer lower prices so that people will find it worthwhile to travel high-density class rather than regular economy class. At the same time, it must make basic high-density travel sufficiently unappealing that people will pay to obtain upgrades to it. Good luck with that one, WestJet; you’ll need help from wiser sources than me.


Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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