Airlines are subdividing “economy” into a “basic economy.” You could also call it “last class” but that makes it sound as sucky as it really is.
“last class is an effort to compete with the profitability of no-frills competitors such as Spirit and Frontier. Airlines can cut costs by limiting the things to which passengers are entitled. Eliminating upgrades and standby flying for certain passengers reduces administrative overheads. And forcing some passengers into the seats no one else wants could reduce the risk that they will remain vacant.” Reduce the risk that they will remain vacant!? Are you f*ck#ng kidding me!? I have flown quite a bit over the last several years. I can only think of a handful of times where all the seats weren’t full. I would say that risk is already low.
The other side of the spectrum has pointed out that “Delta and its rivals are making basic economy so unpleasant that people will pay extra to “upgrade” to standard economy.” (source)
I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later. The airlines are always looking for new ways to nickel and dime everyone to death. Maybe someday they will invent some kind of standing room section where you are harnessed into a standup gurney Hannibal Lecter style. This way they can reduce leg room and fit more seats! Shit, I just gave them an idea!