The Checkout

Extra Airline Fees Take Off

In one of my very first postings on this blog, I included a prediction by airline expert Terry Trippler: Just as we now pay extra for services that were once free (gift-wrapped purchases, furniture delivery, gas pumped by an attendant), Tripper said we will soon be paying added fees for what we now consider part of the standard air fare. Among other things, Trippler said airlines would start charging extra for advanced seat assignments, especially desirable ones that have more room, such as aisle seats on an emergency row or bulkhead.

Well, it's less than three months later and Trippler's prediction has come true. Northwest Airlines is charging $15 for aisle and exit-row seats. It's a test program for 5 percent of the seats on a flight. Needless to say, a lot of passengers aren't happy. Read more in Keith Alexander's Business Class column.

By  |  March 21, 2006; 11:54 AM ET Consumer News
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I don't see what the big deal is. We do it everywhere else -- we charge a premium for better seating. This is no different than a ballpark charging more for a box seat than it does for a bleacher seat.

Let 'em do it, and those who want a better seat can pay more for it.

Posted by: Tony | March 21, 2006 1:11 PM

Although I agree with Tony in theory, such a policy is dicey in practice, especially for people traveling in groups.

Just one example: we can ask adults to be mature and suffer sitting away from each other for a few hours, but what about travelers with children? If all seats were subject to such pricing, would people have to pay more to be able to sit next to their children? Or should they separate to save money, potentially irritating passengers who then must sit next to unsupervised kids?

Posted by: nlw | March 21, 2006 1:40 PM

Is there any wonder why NW is in bankruptcy? If these clowns can't turn a profit with full airplanes, maybe we should let them go under.

Posted by: Kevin | March 21, 2006 2:01 PM

It isn't true that we charge extra for better seating everywhere. In very general terms, yes, like in concert halls where the orchestra seats cost more than the balcony seats (similar to first class vs. coach), but we don't charge people in movie theaters extra to sit on the aisle, or in the first row behind a crosswalk where there's nobody right in front of them. Perhaps the difference is that concert hall seating is assigned and movie theater seating generally isn't. So, Southwest Airlines would never be able to implement a surcharge for aisle seats, since they use first-come-first-serve seating and always have (incidentally, they're also the most profitable airline in history. So much for the importance to passengers of having reserved seats.)

Posted by: Scott | March 21, 2006 2:12 PM

In a sense, Southwest does charge a premium for aisle or exit row seats, it's just that you pay in time rather than money. If you want an exit row aisle seat, then you'd better check in early enough to get in the first boarding group, then be one of the first to line up at the gate. If you just want an aisle seat, you just need to check in early enough to get into the first boarding group, etc. For some people, this is a good system, but others might prefer to pay extra so they don't have to worry about early check in and/or jockeying for a good position in line.

Posted by: Sally | March 21, 2006 2:45 PM

I heard about this proposed practice on the news recently. This truly angers me for many reasons.

First, while exit rows do offer more leg room, the persons requesting/chosing to sit in these rows are also taking on a serivce responsibility for the other passengers in the event of an emergency. These airlines are essentially looking to charge people for assisting them in their jobs (as well as convenience).

In addition, some people have medical or physical needs that may require bulkhead seating for purposes of space. How rude of these airlines to ask someone with special needs to pay extra.

If they can't do business to serve the customer then I say let them go under. I think that most of these companies need the reality check of not being protected by the courts. Let 'em go under. No one bailed out Independence Air.....why the let the rest of them slide?

Posted by: Michelle | March 21, 2006 3:53 PM

This move by NWA irritates me. While Tony makes a point, travel by air is not quite the same since all ticket prices are not the same. We are not all paying a set price and then an additional 15.00 for an aisle or $50 for a better seat. Prices have significant variation. The point made about special needs is one very well taken. Or what about sheer size? Is a 6'4 man supposed to suffer in the middle if he cannot afford to pay the extra fee, making those around him also uncomfortable?

If all seats were a set price and you pay a certain amount for the front of the cabin, etc. then maybe it would be ok. But that is not the way it works.

And about those exit rows? How many times have I boarded a plane to see a significantly overweight, clearly unfit individual sitting there. That not only makes other passengers irritated but it is unsafe as well.

As a frequent traveller it is very hard to see the airline perspective for this move.

Posted by: jj | March 21, 2006 4:17 PM

United has the better approach - offering Economy Plus seats to its premier members. That's the reason I fly United.

The real issue is buried in the column - *who* pays. If business travelers don't get reimbursed for the seat fee, then this is just cost shifting from company to traveler. That is particularly nefarious on the airlines' part.

Posted by: andrew | March 21, 2006 4:49 PM

Tickets are already priced so that the last minute business traveler subsidizes the plan ahead vacation ticket.

Since the last minute business traveler provides a bigger net margin for the airlines, a lot of prime seats are reserved for them via frequent flyer status and seat blocking. If airlines start charging for these seats and the business traveler loses out, do you really think the airline is going to survive as a business? I'm going to bet that this gets rescinded in any market where there is real competition.

Posted by: PTT | March 21, 2006 7:37 PM

On the same lines do you forsee airlines charging passengers according to thir weight ? After all it probably costs an airline more to fly a 250 lb person than a 50 lb kid; so why should the latter subsize the former's travel ?

Posted by: NA | March 21, 2006 9:16 PM

I'll gladly pay the extra $15 for a better seat! The prices on NW airlines are so cheap to begin with, who cares if you have to pay a little extra. Now if only they'd implement a service to gaurantee that I don't have to sit next to a screaming baby.

Posted by: Willing to pay for a little extra comfort | March 22, 2006 12:43 PM

I think the way they've implemented is the correct way. If you want the seat, you pay more. If you don't care, you don't pay the $15. If you don't care and end up in an aisle or exit row seat, you don't pay (that's key). I won't pay the $15 for the choice of sitting in an aisle seat but I'm glad to see that I won't be FORCED to pay if I end up in an aisle seat.


Posted by: jim | March 22, 2006 1:25 PM

I think it's ridiculous. If they need the extra cash that badly, charge $5 more a ticket and don't tell us about it. Airfares are already ridiculously complicated - and, of course, it's virtually impossible to understand what you're going to pay until you're about to click "buy" - so why not just wrap in another fee for $5 called the "We're Monkeys Who Don't Know How to Run an Airline Fee"?

Posted by: h3 | March 22, 2006 3:44 PM

Charge full coach unrestricted fare for the screaming babies. That will do it.

Posted by: no screaming babies | March 22, 2006 4:43 PM

The only thing that is different here is a premium for the more desirable seats. Twice recently we have paid $10 PER person, PER direction, to reserve seats at all. This is paying a premium to sit together, get an aisle seat, or whatever, versus scrambling at the gate for whatever seat is available. We also got pre-boarded. This was on Allegiant and also on a United flight on a smaller plane. We decided we'd rather pay this "premium".

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