Fleeing the sun – and customer service airline-style

Modern travel can be disjunctive. From the rich gold of autumn Cape Town, here I am in the grey light of early spring in London. At first the leafless trees are startling, but one soon gets used to the starkness and begins to notice the signs of renewal – tulips briliant in thin sunshine at the Tate Britain, branches of blossom shining white against the grey of the terraced houses.

The transition is not made easier by lack of sleep – thanks to SAA. There is an extraordinary quirk of airline marketing that means that the more you pay for your ticket, the worse the seat that you get allocated.

I had to book at the last minute, as many business passengers do. So my ticket was not exactly cheap. I am also in that class of passenger that keeps the airline in business, as I am due to make another three intercontinental trips in the next few months. So what seat do I get allocated? An aisle seat, yes, that I grant them. But towards the back of the plane, right next to the galley, so that every five minutes throughout the night we were blinded by flashes of brilliant light as people came and went through the galley curtain.

Then there were the seats themselves. I remember the days of my youth when airline seats reclined right back, days when there was more space between the rows than there is now. Well, in this elderly Jumbo, some still did. The one in front of me did. But not mine. So I had a sardine sliver of space between my seat and the lavishly reclined seat in front of me. It was sheer torture.

Then there was the entertainment system that was so aged that the symbols on the buttons had rubbed off, making the choice of programme a matter of guess-work…

The reason I am complaining is that I had paid probably double what a lot of other passengers had paid. And they were the ones with the good seats – up front, or in the upstairs cabin. So, from a marketing point of view, what the airline does is give its lower-paying customers a double benefit. They get a substantial reduction in their ticket price and then they get to choose all the best seats.

So why pay full fare? What do you get for it? What is the airline offering its best customers, the business people who travel regularly and pay a chunk more than the once-off cut-price tourist? Can SAA explain?

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