Seat fees are the latest iteration of the airline industry's new normal. Carriers are blocking more seats from advance-seat selection, especially for low-fare passengers. More crowded planes also make it tougher to get a desirable seat. As a result, more travelers are feeling pressured to pay a fee and reserve a seat rather settle for an assigned one—which could be a middle seat or not located next to their family members. Worse, those without assigned seats stand a higher chance of getting bumped from a flight.
On some Frontier flights, one-third of all seats require extra fees or higher fares to reserve in advance. AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, which recently increased the number of seats it reserves as "preferred" seats requiring a fee or elite status, says a "majority" of its seats are still available unblocked. Delta Air Lines has been studying a preferred-seat fee plan, and an announcement is likely before the end of the year, industry officials said. Also coming next year, United Airlines will drop a perk that lets the lowest level of elite frequent fliers reserve Economy Plus extra-room seats in advance.
Customers do not want middle seats or back of the bus seats. But, will they pay $75 for a specific seat? Even a business class flyer found he had to pay $120 to be assigned a sleeper seat next to his spouse.
Earlier this week, American's Flight 871 from Boston to Miami had 27 open seats, but 21 were classified as "Preferred" seats requiring extra payment ranging from $4 to $39. Want a seat without paying extra? There were five middle seats and one window from which to choose.
Similarly, US Airways Flight 1632 on the Sunday after Thanksgiving recently had 10 seats remaining for customers—all classified as "Choice" seats, which require a fee ranging from $5 to $99.
Beginning next year, United will discontinue its perk of letting Premier-level frequent fliers—the lowest level at 25,000 miles a year—reserve "Economy Plus" seats with extra legroom when buying a ticket