Gol to offer comfort option on all domestic flights

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Brazilian carrier Gol is expanding its extra legroom product dubbed Gol + Conforto to 80% of its fleet by May to ensure the offering is available on all its domestic flights.

Gol first embarked on an extra comfort product in 2012 when the carrier began selling passengers seats on the first two rows of its Boeing 737 narrowbodies with the middle seat remaining vacant on shuttle flights from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. During 2013 Gol actually began offering seats with more legroom on those flights, after three months featuring the seats on the shuttle service, the carrier decided to broaden Conforto’s scope.

The carrier is reconfiguring 116 aircraft, or roughy 80% of its fleet with the extra legroom offering. Seat counts on Gol’s 737-700s are decreasing from 144 to 138, and rows two to seven on the jet’s right side and three to seven on the left will feature Conforto. On the airline’s -800s, seating levels are dropping from 189 to 177, and rows one through seven on either side of the single-aisle jet are designated as Conforto.

Conforto’s product attributes include 34in of pitch (versus a regular seat pitch of 30in) and 50% more recline. It is offered free of charge to Gol’s Smile Diamante members and Elite members of Delta’s frequent flyer programme. Delta has an equity stake in Gol and the two carriers have an extensive codeharing pact. Gol is selling Conforto to all other passengers for R30.00 ($13).

“This is smart move by Gol, especially for short domestic flights,” says John Walton, director of data at flight ratings, search and data site Routehappy. He says the 34in pitch is similar to what passengers might find on a JetBlue flight or in an extra legroom economy offering on a US airline’s Boeing 737.

“Overall in the South American market, particularly given the relatively short distances on the southern South American trunk routes, we’re seeing carriers move either to Eurobiz – economy seats with a couple of inches of extra legroom, and the middle seat free – or extra legroom economy – the same, but without a free middle seat,” says Walton. He explains that LAN, which has merged with TAM to form LATAM Airlines Group, has a Premium Economy class that has a Eurobiz seat.

During the last couple of years Gol has made moves to shore up its corporate share, and estimates that its current split between business and leisure passengers is 65%/ 35%. But Walton notes that “it would seem to me that businesses are dubious about the value of a Eurobiz seat on such a short route, just as many European businesses are in Europe.” The approximate flight time between Sao Paulo and Rio is 26 minutes.

But on longer flights business travelers “know it’s hard to use a laptop in economy on anything less than 32in, and even then it’s tricky if the person in front reclines. Offering extra-legroom options means that business travelers can be sure they can get some work done in flight, and even a couple of hours of uninterrupted time is a bonus,” Walton notes.

“Airlines worldwide are realizing that extra-legroom economy seating is an excellent way to make ancillary revenue with minimal product design time or capital outlay,” says Walton. Gol no doubt is making the same assumptions.

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