Oh, You Wanted to Sit Down While Flying the Friendly Skies?
Well, we went for the surcharge for speaking to a human being and we swallowed the extra charge for food on board airplanes, so now Northwest is testing to see if there's anything airline customers would actually balk at paying for. The airline announced its new "Coach Choice" program, which involves charging an extra $15 if you want one of those nifty aisle or exit-row seats.
Turns out that Northwest is not the very first to do this. The Wall Street Journal reports that Virgin Atlantic sells its exit-row seats for $75 above the cost of other coach seats, and Air Canada charges $12 for advance seat assignments on some flights.
And industry analysts say there's more to come: Some airlines are talking about charging for all liquids, not just the alcoholic ones, and even for checking bags. (So now you want to travel with your bags?)
According to the Associated Press, Terry Trippler of Cheapseats.com predicts that by the end of this year, it will cost you $5 each to check a bag. "I believe a $1 to $2 charge for sodas and juice is coming. But the most controversial issue will be when the first airline announces a charge for checking baggage. I believe it's coming, and it's coming in 2006." (Actually, when American Eagle tried to charge passengers for sodas, there was enough pushback that the airline retreated.)
But why stop with extra charges for aisle seats? There's a big promotion in store for the airline exec who develops the Straps or Seats-You Decide! Discount Plan, in which most seats will be removed from the aircraft. Passengers paying regular fares would be strapped to the fuselage wall, perching in safety and in full sight of video screens suspended from the ceiling--plenty of distraction for a flight of any length. Passengers wishing to take a seat for any portion of the flight could rent chair time at a modest per-minute rate.
The airlines, bizarrely, have not yet taken me up on my last pricing proposal, in which I argued that since fuel costs are up so sharply, it's only fair that passengers pay according to their weight.
But I'm sure the good folks at Northwest and other carriers are on this, and soon, we'll be able to make better use of our time in the security queue, filling out a comprehensive personal profile--weight, appetite, layers of clothing worn, tendency to yammer at seatmates--that can be used to calculate our fair and just fare.
Wouldn't you pay more not to sit next to a blabbermouth who takes up part of your seat?
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