Coach class used to be the great equalizer

But now, there's coach--and then there's "REALLY coach."

There are the premium coach passengers up front, who enjoy basic perks that once upon a time, were available to everyone on board. 

Then, there are the unwashed masses in "REALLY coach," looking with envy toward the folks ahead of them in premium.

Recently, American Airlines made an announcement that made the division between the two coaches even more stark.

But it turns out they also made a decision that sort of upends the whole model.

First, the new perks, then the upending.

Passengers in the premium economy section that American calls Main Cabin Extra will be entitled to free alcoholic drinks, plus dedicated overhead bin space.

The bin space is on the honor system, as my colleague Chris Matyszczyk reports.

Meantime, the upending also has to do with the honor system.

Because American says that when passengers from "REALLY coach" spot empty seats in Main Cabin Extra and rush to grab them, they won't be stopped.

Instead, they'll be allowed to settle into the roomier seats, and enjoy the free booze and the baggage space, even though they didn't pay for any of it.

This isn't really a matter of turning a blind eye, either. In fact, American's specifically says passengers are allowed to improve their station in life by moving up to Main Cabin Extra (aka, "MCE")--at least according to a copy of the guidance it issued to its flight crews,  which was obtained by View From the Wing:

Outside of complimentary beer, wine and spirits, what does MCE include?
In addition to complimentary beer, wine and spirits, MCE seats will receive preferential boarding, additional legroom, and reserved overhead bin space.

Can customers move into open MCE seats once boarding is complete? 
Yes. Once the door is closed, customers are allowed to move to any available seat within their ticketed cabin (no change to current procedure).

Other airlines put their flight attendants in the position of having to act like traffic cops when "REALLY coach" passengers try to promote themselves to the class of travel formerly known as coach. 

Last year, for example, United Airlines kicked a couple who were traveling to their wedding off a plane for trying to move from basic economy to premium.

Things did not end well. (It's disputed whether the airline called the cops.)

So, one might guess that American's flight attendants are happy with the new policy, assuming they would rather not have to play police at 30,000 feet. But is the decision a a good thing for passengers? 

Certainly it's a benefit for the folks in "REALLY coach"--except that they'll now be participants in an airborne Hunger Games, where people jockey and race from the back of the plane to the "free booze and more legroom section" in the front, as soon as the doors close.

And woe to the passengers who actually paid for Main Cabin Extra seats, who will now find that they could possibly have had the extra perks for free if they'd bought cheaper, "REALLY coach" tickets, and then just sprinted to the front of the plane.

They'll also be robbed of one of life's sublime pleasures, which when you book a flight and find upon boarding that the seat next to you is empty.

Not for long, not on American in MCE anyway.

But that also means some lucky "REALLY coach" passengers will wind up with two seats on flights that aren't full--since their would-be seat mates will now be enjoying free drinks and more legroom in MCE.

Where do you come down on the issue? Pro-premium, or in the corner of "REALLY coach" passengers?

Let us know in the comments. And have a safe flight.