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Survey on Airline Seat Swaps

Seat Swaps

Crowded Flights

Airline seat swaps occur regularly during commercial air travel. Air travelers are willing to pay or be paid to swap seats with other travelers, according to survey results released today. Air travelers sitting in a less desirable seat are willing to pay other travelers to swap for a more desirable seat. Similarly, in return for receiving payment, air travelers are willing to swap from a more desirable seat to a less desirable seat.

Airline Seat Swaps: Survey Overview

Presented below is an overview of the survey on airline seat swaps.

Survey Respondents

Seateroo hired SurveyMonkey to survey U.S. residents aged 18 to 65 years old who are mobile device users and had traveled via commercial airline at least 3 times during the previous 6 months. SurveyMonkey gathered responses from 401 respondents meeting the above criteria during the week of November 15-19, 2015. The margin for error based upon this sample size is +/- 5%.

Survey Design

Based upon prior studies related to air traveler preferences and complaints, we made certain underlying assumptions regarding the types of airline seats and situations that air travelers consider to be either more desirable or less desirable, respectively. Specifically, the airline seat swaps survey included the following assumptions:

  • Aisle and window seats are more desirable than middle seats;
  • Seats closer to the front are more desirable than seats towards the back;
  • Seats closer to family, friends, or colleagues are more desirable than seats next to strangers;
  • Seats in a premium seating section (i.e., business or first class) are more desirable than economy seats; and
  • Seats near quiet passengers are more desirable than seats near crying children, loud talkers, or other potentially annoying air travelers.

Survey questions were posed relative to three different flight lengths: short (0.5 to 1.5 hours), medium (2 to 3 hours), and long (3.5 hours or more). Unless specified otherwise, the questions were posed under an assumption where a respondent was not sitting next to family, friends, or colleagues. Our assumption is that most passengers would rather sit near family, friends, or colleagues even if it means sitting in an otherwise less desirable seat.

Survey questions were posed related to both the demand and supply of more desirable seats during air travel. The demand for desired seats was measured by the willingness of air travelers to pay another traveler to swap seats from a less desirable to a more desirable seat. For example, the survey measured the willingness of air travelers to pay another traveler to swap from a middle seat to an aisle seat.

The supply of desired seats was measured by the willingness of air travelers, in return for receiving payment, to swap a more desirable seat for a less desirable seat. For example, the survey measured the willingness of air travelers to be paid to swap from an aisle seat to a middle seat.

It is important to note that the survey instructed respondents to assume that there were no regulatory or airline restrictions on seat swaps. However, there was no indication that seat swaps were endorsed by or supported by airlines. Anecdotally, since Seateroo has found that many air travelers believe that seat swaps are either prohibited by airlines or a violation of FAA regulations, a survey related to an airline-endorsed seat swap product would be expected to result in a greater willingness of survey respondents to pay, or be paid, to swap airline seats.

Airline Seat Swaps: Survey Results

Presented below is a summary of the results from the survey.

Willingness to Swap for Seats in Return of Payment

Survey respondents were asked to rate the likelihood that they would be willing to: a) pay another passenger to swap for a better seat; and b) in return for being paid by another passenger, swap for a less desirable seat. The rating options for likelihood, from least to most likely, were as follows: Not At All Likely, Slightly Likely, Moderately Likely, Highly Likely, or Extremely Likely. The ratings were made related to flights of different lengths: long, medium, and short.

Willingness to Pay to Swap for a Better Seat

On a long flight, 55% indicated that they were moderately to extremely likely to be willing to pay another passenger to swap for a better seat. 27% indicated that they were highly to extremely likely to pay to swap for a better seat.

On a medium flight, 26% indicated that they were moderately to extremely likely to be willing to pay another passenger to swap for a better seat. 6% indicated that they were highly to extremely likely to pay to swap for a better seat.

On a short flight, 7% indicated that they were moderately to extremely likely to be willing to pay another passenger to swap for a better seat. 1% indicated that they were highly to extremely likely to pay to swap for a better seat.

Not surprisingly, there is a significant difference between the likelihood of paying to swap for a better seat across different flight lengths.

Willingness to Swap for a Less Desirable Seat

As shown below, there was also a significant difference between the likelihood of accepting payment to swap for a less desirable seat based upon flight length. However, the likelihood was higher on shorter flights than longer flights.

On a long flight, 20% indicated that they were moderately to extremely likely to be willing to swap for a less desirable seat in return for being paid. 10% indicated that they were highly to extremely likely make such a swap.

On a medium flight, 36% indicated that they were moderately to extremely likely to be willing to pay another passenger to swap for a better seat. 15% indicated that they were highly to extremely likely make such a swap.

On a short flight, 45% indicated that they were moderately to extremely likely to be willing to pay another passenger to swap for a better seat. 29% indicated that they were highly to extremely likely make such a swap.

Swapping from a Middle Seat to an Aisle or Window Seat

It is pretty much a given that travelers dislike middle seats. Our survey also suggested that travelers prefer aisle seats over window seats when considering the willingness to swap out of a middle seat.

Paying to Swap from a Middle Seat

On a long flight, 39% are willing to pay to swap from a middle seat to an aisle seat while 31% are willing to pay to swap from a middle seat to a window seat.

On a medium flight, 22% are willing to pay to swap from a middle seat to an aisle seat while 17% are willing to pay to swap from a middle seat to a window seat.

On a short flight, 9% are willing to pay to swap from a middle seat to an aisle seat while 7% are willing to pay to swap from a middle seat to a window seat.

Getting Paid to Swap into a Middle Seat

Our survey also measured the extent passengers, in return for payment, are willing to swap from an aisle or window seat into a middle seat.

On a long flight, if paid to do so, 13% are willing to swap from an aisle seat to a middle seat while 12% are willing to swap from a window seat to a middle seat.

On a medium flight, if paid to do so, 23% are willing to swap from an aisle seat to a middle seat while 22% are willing to swap from a window seat to a middle seat.

On a short flight, if paid to do so, 37% are willing to swap from an aisle seat to a middle seat while 34% are willing to swap from a window seat to a middle seat.

Swapping from a Rear Row for a Seat in a Front Row

Our survey indicated measured the willingness of passengers to move towards/or from the front and rear of the plane. However, as compared to other reasons for seat swaps, survey respondents indicated that row location was less important.

Paying to Swap from the Rear Towards the Front

On a long flight, 18% are willing to pay to swap from a seat in a rear row for a seat in a front row.

On a medium flight, 13% are willing to pay to swap from a seat in a rear row for a seat in a front row.

On a short flight, 6% are willing to pay to swap from a seat in a rear row for a seat in a front row.

Getting Paid to Swap from the Front Towards the Rear

Our survey also measured the extent passengers, in return for payment, are willing to swap from a seat in a front row for a seat towards the rear.

On a long flight, 25% are willing to be paid to swap from a seat in a front row for a seat in a rear row.

On a medium flight, 40% are willing to be paid to swap from a seat in a front row for a seat in a rear row.

On a short flight, 46% are willing to be paid to swap from a seat in a front row for a seat in a rear row.

Paying to Move Away from an Annoying Passenger

Our survey measured the willingness of air travelers to pay to move away from an annoying passenger, which may include such behavior as a crying child, loud passengers, smelly passengers, etc.

On a long flight, 34% are willing to pay to swap for a seat located away from an annoying passenger, while only 21% and 6% are willing to pay for this swap on a medium and short flight, respectively.

On the flip side, in return for being paid, many air travelers are willing to swap from a pleasant area on a plane to sit near an annoying passenger. On a long flight, 11% are willing swap for a seat located near an annoying passenger, while 18% and 26% are willing to make this swap on a medium and short flight, respectively.

Paying to Move from an Economy to a Premium Seat

On a long flight, 44% are willing to pay to swap from an economy to a premium seat. 18% are willing to pay to swap from an economy to a premium seat on a medium flight while only 6% are willing to pay for this swap on a short flight.

On the flip side, if paid, then passengers are willing to swap from a premium seat to an economy seat. On a long flight, 11% are willing to downgrade, while 15% and 23% are willing to make this swap on a medium and short flight, respectively.

Paying to Sit Near a Spouse, Friend, or Colleague

Our survey indicated a slightly higher willingness to pay to swap for a seat near a spouse, friend, or colleague than to swap from an economy to a premium seat.

On a long flight, 44% are willing to pay to swap for a seat near a spouse, friend, or colleague. 24% are willing to pay for such a swap on a medium flight while 9% are willing to pay for this swap on a short flight.

Reflecting the power of the almighty dollar (or perhaps the fondness towards a travel partner), if paid to do so, air travelers are willing to swap for a seat away from a spouse, friend, or colleague. On a long flight, 7% are willing to make such a swap. On medium or short flights, 11% and 19% are willing to make such a swap.

Flight Length and Survey Results

Opportunities for seat swaps are impacted by flight length. Not surprisingly, the survey results indicate that the longer the flight, the more likely an air traveler would be willing to pay another passenger to swap seats for a more desirable seat. On the flip side, the shorter the flight, the more likely an air traveler would be willing to swap for a less desirable seat.

The joy from a desirable seat or pain from an undesirable seat is directly correlated to the length of the flight. As a result, for coast-to-coast and long international flights, more air travelers would be willing to pay to swap seats with another passenger for a more desirable (less painful) seat.

Demographics of Survey Respondents Impact Results

In general, respondents aged 18 to 45 were more willing to pay to swap seats than those respondents aged 46 to 65. This may suggest that younger air travelers have stronger likes and dislikes regarding airline seats. Alternatively, it may suggest that the younger group is more familiar with the concept of “on-demand” products and services to improve their experience in a wide-range of situations. Airline seat swaps provide an “on-demand” opportunity for passengers to improve his or her air travel experience.

Prices Required for Airline Seat Swaps

The amount air travelers are willing to pay to swap seats varied based upon factors such as their current seat location, the seat location being swapped for, and the length of the flight. There was significant variation among the responses in terms of the amount air travelers are willing to pay or be paid in order to swap seats.

Swapping for an Economy Seat

As indicated, not all economy seats are desired equally by air travelers. To swap from a less desirable to a more desirable economy seat, air travelers are willing to pay on average $24 on a short flight and $34 on a long flight. However, while 26% are willing to pay $50 or more to swap seats on a long flight, only 11% are willing to pay $50 or more on a short flight.

For air travelers being asked to swap from a more desirable to a less desirable economy seat, air travelers on average want to receive $31 on a short flight and $61 on a long flight. However, on a long flight, 23% are willing to swap from a more desirable to a less desirable seat in return for being paid $30 or less.

Swapping for a Premium Seat

Not surprisingly, premium seats are more desirable than economy seats. To swap from an economy to a premium seat, air travelers are willing to pay on average $30 on a short flight and $53 on a long flight. However, while 24% are willing to pay $80 or more to swap seats on a long flight, only 4% are willing to pay $80 or more on a short flight.

For air travelers being asked to swap from a premium seat to an economy seat, air travelers on average want to receive $56 on a short flight and $79 on a long flight. However, particularly on long flights, there is significant variation among the amounts required by air travelers to swap from a premium seat to an economy seat. While 50% of air travelers would want to receive at least $100 to make such a swap, 30% are willing to make this swap if being paid $50 or less.

Airline Seat Swaps: Conclusion

The experience of air travel can range from misery to great fun. Factors such as seat location and the behavior of passengers sitting nearby can have significant impact on the quality of the air travel experience.

As flights become increasingly crowded, air travelers often are unable to purchase a desirable seat. In addition, even if a desired seat is purchased, an air traveler may face annoying behavior from a fellow passenger. Lastly, many air travelers are looking for ways to reduce the cost of air travel.

The survey measured the willingness of air travelers to find a better seat by swapping seats with another passenger. The demand for better seats among air travelers is not surprising. The survey also measured the willingness of air travelers to provide the supply of more desired seats by being paid to swap for less desired seats. Lastly, survey respondents indicated the prices they are willing to pay or be paid to swap seats.

It is important to note that the survey results may understate the true potential for a product facilitating airline seat swaps. First, many people are hesitant to be “early adopters” of new technology products or services. Second, if the product to be endorsed by an airline, then this added credibility would reduce the perceived risk of a product that operates independently of an airline. Third, to the extent the product is endorsed by an airline, the added credibility should both increase the amount a seat swap buyer would be willing to pay as well as decrease the amount a seat swap seller would ask to be paid.

About Seateroo

The Seateroo app provides air travelers with a tool to enhance their air travel experience. Stuck in a middle seat? Sitting in the back row and unable to recline? Short on space? Bothered by an annoying passenger? For air travelers unhappy with their seat location, Seateroo can help them find a better seat via seat swaps.

High demand flights and/or late booking often results in air travelers paying high airfare. Flexible about where you sit on your flight? Willing to swap for a less desirable seat in return for being paid? Seateroo can provide air travelers with a tool to reduce their air travel costs through seat swaps.

The Seateroo app will launch in January 2016.

2 Comments

  1. […] to a survey published on Seateroo’s blog, 55% of its 401 respondents said they were “moderately to extremely likely” to be […]

  2. Seateroo User Survey - Seateroo

    […] Seateroo conducted a survey of registered Seateroo users to obtain valuable feedback related to key metrics associated with airline seat swaps. Unlike our passenger survey conducted with the help of SurveyMonkey in 2015, this survey was solely sent to Seateroo users rather than general air travelers. If you are interested in the 2015 survey results of 401 frequent air travelers, then you can read about it here. […]