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airplane seatsIt’s nice to snag a seat in the front row of a plane and exit early … but is it worth 20 bucks?

With American Airlines’ recently announced Express Seats service, travelers can now select seats in the front of the plane for quick and easy debarkation. This new program also includes Group 1 boarding, which means passengers who sign up for Express Seats can be among the first coach fliers to board the plane. This is an especially beneficial product for those impatient travelers who bypass the line and slyly sidle up to the gate opening moments before the flight attendant calls their group number (and yes, we see you cutting the queue).

Surprise, surprise: This will cost you. Prices vary based on mileage, but introductory fees start at $19 each way. For example, buying an Express Seat on a flight from St. Louis to Chicago will cost $19, and on a flight from New York to Los Angeles the cost jumps to $39 (the service is available for domestic flights only).

American is one of the last big-name airlines to jump on the pay-for-priority bandwagon. US Airways, Continental, United, AirTran and several others have similar systems, charging coach passengers more for earlier boarding, seats that are near the front of the plane, or window and aisle seats.

Airlines have long been advocates of the class system, forcing proletariat passengers to wait in lines and wedge into shoebox-size seats while the elites fully extend their legs and ponder the in-flight wine list. But we have to wonder: Has this gone too far? In ancient times when checked bags were free and front-row coach seats were first come, first serve, a passenger who purchased a standard-fare ticket was qualified for a comfortable, pleasant flight. These days, a “comfortable flight” costs way more than the airlines’ published fares — and budget-minded travelers who simply wait in line and book ahead are denied the perks once to credited to early birds.

Will the airlines continue to split coach seats into sub-classes, forcing passengers to pay a fee for virtually everything but the smelly row next to the bathroom? Such a scenario isn’t realistic (well, we hope it isn’t), but there are still plenty of free onboard features, from tray tables to reclining seats, that could cost extra in the near future if this trend continues. Tell us what you think!

9 Responses to “Express Seats: The Latest Airline Fee”

  1. SeaMarmot says:

    I’ll take the smelly seat by the bathroom … nose gets really clogged up at 35,000 feet anyhow.

  2. Kathy says:

    I think it’s horrible that the airlines are charging for almost EVERYTHING!!

    No one will want to fly in the future if they continue to “nickel and dime”
    everyone! Shame, shame, shame!

  3. LSKahn says:

    I am not paying for anything other than the base fare. I buy food at the airport to bring on to avoid food charges on longer flights.

    The most annoying thing is the fee for checked baggage. What happens is that everyone brings two overstuffed carry ons and getting them into overheads becomes a real challenge. I travel light, so, if there is a fee for a bag, I won’t pay it, but there is a point where this gets ridiculous. The airlines post a fee and then charge for this and that so that the real fee isn’t the fee.

    When you travel over water, you still get a checked bag for free and food. Kudos to Air New Zealand–the absolutely nicest airline I have ever flown. I flew them to Australia on July 3-5, 2010 (you lose a day flying through the international date line so July 4th was waived this year for me [no fireworks on the plane]} and back to the US from Auckland, New Zealand, on August 16-17, 2010. The food and wine were included. Due to the length of the Pacific flight, peace and quiet reigned in coach for 6-8 hours (so, unlike overly busy Europe flights from the East Coast, you could actually get some sleep), the food and wine (!) were included, there was no hussle to buy duty free on the plane, the safety video was hilarious (and got everyone laughing and paying attention), the seats in coach were of a reasonable size so your knees were not in your chest, and the crew was gracious. Best of all, on the way home I gratuitiously got an aisle seat (I am never organized enough to demand special seating) in a location where no one was seated in front of me (not the bulkhead or the exit row, but sort of the same thing) and I was not asked for any extra money.

    Of course, on United’s DC to LA (going) and SF to DC (returning) flights, you know what I got. At least United does not charge for a bag when you are connecting to flight over the Pacific.

    Having said all of this, I base which airline to fly on price (Air NZ was cheaper than Qantas, by the way, and had a more convenient itinerary because I was going to both countries). If I have to be uncomfortable for a few hours, so be it. I can get a nice bed once I get where I am going. Cheaper price means I can go more often and I am willing to trade off some convenience for that.

    By the way there are discount airlines down under (I used one for two side trips) that have humongous fees for checked bags (how does $80 strike you for one bag?), so it is a game that everyone is in. I did, by the way, just take hand luggage on those flights and it was the same deal with too many bags and too little space in the overhead.

  4. jc says:

    I believe that all this money grabbing will eventually hurt the airlines. I for one will do the majority of my traveling by car or train, whereas I always flew before.

  5. Jpark says:

    I choose not to patronize those airlines that have these fees, and will continue to fly on airlines that avoid this “business practice”. What it really means is that they’re cheating you – bait and switch on their advertised prices, forcing you into expensive add-ons just for the privilege of bringing your bags, or sitting in a decent seat(actually no coach class seat is decent anymore)by the window or aisle. The bean counters have taken what fun there used to be in flying somewhere and turned it into an ordeal not unlike hell.

  6. M. Carter says:

    Because of a tight connection, I tried the “fee for aisle” seating one time on United and had an interesting experience. When I boarded, there was an elderly non-English speaking person in the seat next o the one I “bought,” and her younger sone was in mine. When I questioned that, the attendent told me that she would reseat me…which she did…father back. I objected but she told me that these were people who did not speak English and that I could file a complaint later. (Which I did and had to wrestle with United for a refund)

    But…I bet the airlines don’t figure THAT scenario into their seating fees, and they obviously don’t inform their attendants on their seating fees. So…my conclusion is that if you don’t speak English and are elderly, sit where you want. Your preferred seating is free.

  7. Hello. I do not work for United however, I am a flight attendant for Comair/Delta and wonder if this is something that they do? Our front row is supposed to be kept open for emergency needs and those who cannot walk back (those needing a straightback).

    My biggest complaint is when I have a shorter passenger in the front row or exit, while a person is barely fit in sideways they are so tall in another row. Even bigger is the passenger who is so large their seat mate doesn’t get the whole seat they paid for!

    I am sorry that you encountered the scenario above, as I would have moved them to be sitting next to each other and not against the person’s will that will be moved. They also get a free drink if inconvenienced! :)

    Hope better travels for you!

  8. aircraft engines listing says:

    I’ll take the smelly seat by the bathroom … nose gets really clogged up at 35,000 feet anyhow.

  9. Pillow Cases says:

    According to my opinion, the new “express seat” progamme would be a good offer for the passengers who are wiling to exit early without getting stuck in the crowd. But I don’t think additional payment should be charged for this.

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