El Al's new "low cost economy" experiment

Capitalizing on the willingness of travelers to pay more for a (theoretically) better passenger experience, a lot of airlines have added "premium economy" products over the last several years, with Air France, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and United Airlines among them. And on other end of things, a lot of airlines have also launched (and also abandoned) their own no-frills, low-cost carriers, in an attempt to emulate the success of the standalone LCCs. Remember Delta's Song? Or United's Ted? Or Continental's Continental Lite? (Well, not many may remember that last one.)

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting that Israeli carrier El Al is introducing something that I've never seen before: a stripped-down version of its economy class product, but within its existing economy class. This comes as low-cost carrier easyJet announces service from London to Tel Aviv; British airline bmi has already entered the market. German LCC Air Berlin also serves Israel, and El Al, being a 'traditional' carrier, is apparently feeling the heat. But instead of launching its own LCC (a concept which Haaretz says the airline's previous management explored but ultimately rejected), the airline will be turning a block of seats in regular economy class into a low-cost economy class.

The new sub-economy class will take up about 10-20% of all seats on the plane, and those seats will be grouped together, not located around the cabin. Although the seats are the same (no Ryanair tricks here), amenities like checked baggage, meals and headphones will cost those passengers sitting in sub-economy extra cash. "Our plan is to open on the planes another class, the low-cost economy," said El Al CEO Haim Romano. "While leg room will be the same as in the rest of the economy class, low-cost passengers will receive no free services. They will have to pay for every suitcase they check in, for food and beverages on board, for headphones or any other entertainment service, for blankets and pillows and for reserving seats." Which could work well for the airline, although how they're going to prevent a sub-economy passenger swiping a headset from a "regular" economy seat or going to the galley to get a free coffee might need to be worked out.

As of right now, El Al is only planning on rolling out the new low-cost economy class on its European flights, which makes a lot of sense; the airline doesn't face low-cost competition on its longer routes, where profit margins are usually higher. But the airline has said that if the experiment is successful, El Al might introduce it on its long-haul flights too.

photo by caribb from Flickr, licensed under the Creative Commons