Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

There will be mourning in this mountains.

You'll hear the gnashing of molars and the crashing of hopes and dreams.

Once, it was thought that Alaska Airlines preferred to rise above the desultory fray of airlines' base behavior.

This is not a good week for those who believed.

First, tomorrow is the last day of Virgin America, another airline that carried with it so much hope and ended up being swallowed by Alaska.

Among Alaska's first gestures was to remove the live TV from Virgin planes.

Soon, they, too will have no seatback screens at all, so you'll have to rely on your own iPads and phones for your entertainment. 

But surely Alaska would never ever stoop to offering a Basic Economy fare. Or, as I prefer to think of it, Sub-Cattle Class.

These are the fares that offer no upgrade possibilities, the worst seats and (often) restrictions on carry-ons.

All for a saving of perhaps just a few dollars.

Sadly, that dark Alaskan day has come.

As Skift reports, Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden offered these words of discomfort during the airline's first quarter earnings call: "We plan to roll out a fare segmentation platform in the late fall, which is essentially Alaska's response to the industry's basic economy fares, which are now prevalent."

Some might translate this as: "We're heading toward the sewer. Everyone who's anyone's down there."

It's a curious strategy. Some might liken it to Apple releasing a $100 phone that doesn't have a camera.

And all the details of Alaska's version of Sub-Cattle Class are still unclear.

Tilden insisted that one difference would be that passengers could at least get an advance seat assignment.

This contrasts with offerings on other airlines, which simply give Sub-Cattle Class passengers the worst seats on the plane and force them to board last.

It could be, the wicked might think, that Alaska has already calculated which the worst seats are and will happily pre-assign them.

Airline spokeswoman Oriana Branon told me: "Guests can have carry-ons. Seats will be toward the back of the plane. Individual seats will be dependent on availability. Guests will still be able to view the seat map and select which seat they want."

Of the ones that the map will display, of course. 

It's astonishing how sometimes these seat maps fail to show all the seats that aren't currently booked.

Tilden said that the airline was aiming for "the middle ground." The middle of the basement, that is.

Of course, the airline is trying to make this offering sound nicer. It's calling these fares Saver Fares.

I suspect, though, that there will be little to savor.

On the same earnings call, the airline said it aimed to "improve the profitability of the business."

You might wonder how this stripped-down class does that. 

Well, it's essentially a psychological pricing ploy. It's supposed to make Sub-Cattle Class so ugly that you'll be prepared to pay more not to be in it.

In essence, then, airlines are trying to get you to pay a higher price than you did before for the very same standard Economy Class.

Nickel and Dime really are a couple of talented schemers, aren't they?

Published on: Apr 24, 2018