Kenya Airways Launches A New ‘Economy MAX’ Seating Product

Kenya Airways has this week revealed a new product for its economy passengers. Named ‘Economy Max,’ the upgrade will give fliers the ability to purchase an adjacent seat or the entire row for their forthcoming economy class flight. Seats can be bought between 48 hours and three hours prior to the flight.

Kenya Airways Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
Passengers can buy more space on Kenya Airways flights. Photo: Getty Images

Economy Max for more space

Despite the name, Kenya Airways’ latest offering for passengers has no relation to a certain notorious narrowbody aircraft. Rather, it is a smart new solution to the worries of travelers spending many hours in close proximity to other people.

Economy Max, the first of its kind for an African airline, allows passengers to purchase seats or the whole row adjacent to their own, to create onboard social distancing when they fly with Kenya Airways. The additional personal space is intended to address the most pressing of worries for fliers who need to travel during the pandemic.

Speaking about the new product, Julius Thairu, Chief Commercial and Customer Officer at Kenya Airways, commented,

“The world we live in has changed. As an airline, we continue to adapt to the evolving needs of our customers as we recover from the effects of the pandemic. Economy Max puts passengers in control of their experience and ensures that our customers have a choice as they enjoy their privacy with additional space to themselves.

“Economy Max is a continuation of KQ’S diversification and innovation to provide relevant products and services to our customers to improve the overall experience of their travels with us.”

Kenya Airways cabin
People can buy one adjacent seat or the whole row. Photo: Getty Images

The airline says that the Economy Max upgrade is available for purchase from 48 hours pre-departure up until three hours before they travel. All economy class passengers will be able to purchase the additional space, regardless of where they are traveling.

How will Economy Max work?

Kenya Airways is actively sending out emails to economy passengers booked to fly, inviting them to purchase the extra space upgrade. If, for any reason, no email has been received, they will be able to access the purchase facility through their check-in page or on the Manage My Booking page on Kenya Airways’ website.

Seat selection is made through the seat map. Economy Max pricing on flights either to or from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) ranges from $15 for one seat on a domestic trip up to $230 for both seats on a route to/from the Americas. Up to two seats can be booked on the Boeing 787 and 737 aircraft and one adjacent seat on the Embraer E190.

Kenya Airways embraer
The 2-2 layout of the E190 means only one seat is available for purchase. Photo: Getty Images

For passengers traveling as a group, the group is expected to only book out the row which they occupy. Bookings for two people are therefore able to select one seat on the Boeing flights and none on the Embraer. Parties of three or more will not be able to book any Economy Max upgrade.

Is it worth the upgrade?

Separation between passengers has been one of the defining issues of 2020, but for many airlines, 2021 is looking quite different. In the US, for example, a number of airlines were blocking middle seats in an effort to provide some level of social distancing throughout the year, but by December, only Delta was actively still keeping its block.

Numerous studies have attempted to drive home the message that traveling on an aircraft is safer, in terms of viral transmission, than being on the ground. Studies by Boeing, Airbus and Embraer have endeavored to show that, because of the HEPA filters, vertical airflow and cabin architecture, mask-wearing travelers retain a similar level of safety as someone standing maskless two meters from another person in a ground-based environment.

Nevertheless, public opinion has remained cautious about the risk of proximity to other passengers. In Inmarsat’s groundbreaking Passenger Confidence Tracker last year, passengers identified ‘Being around other passengers in general’ as the point of the journey with which they felt least confident. Kenya Airways’ initiative may go some way to restoring this confidence, in the short term at least.

Passenger confidence tracker
Inmarsat’s Passenger Confidence Tracker showed that proximity to other people remained a pain point for passengers. Photo: Inmarsat

Regardless of the efficacy of this sort of separation, it’s a good means of getting passengers back in the sky. For Kenya Airways, it’s a win-win scenario. Flying with low load factors anyway, the airline is effectively clawing back some revenue from empty seats. Its terms and conditions make it clear that if seats are sold prior to the 48-hour window, they will not be offered for sale under Economy Max.

For passengers, it’s not a bad deal. Purchasing all the seats in the row for $230 for the long flight from Nairobi to the US, for instance, ensures they can stretch out and enjoy a nap in confidence that nobody will be allowed to move into their row. It’s certainly cheaper than an upgrade to business class.