American Airlines (AMR Corp.) already charges for checked bags, priority boarding, booking on the phone, unaccompanied minors, pets and other so-called amenities.
Now the airline, the country’s second largest after Delta, is charging between $19 and $35.00 (depending on the length of flight) for front row coach seats, those handful of rows known as bulkhead seats. These are not exit row seats; they’re the seats located after the wall or curtain that separates one class of travel from another, or from a lavatory.
They’re supposed to be more comfortable and roomy because with no seats in front of the passenger, no one can recline back into that space.
But, reports the Associated Press in an interview with Steven Hall of Compareairfares.com, the specific configuration of American Airlines’ seats doesn’t give bulkhead passengers as much leg room as other airlines.
So why pay the extra fee, again?
The so-called “Express Seats” fee will allow those passengers to board in the first general boarding group of passengers, a big plus for many travelers, especially in the fight for overhead storage space.
And another big plus is the ease of exiting and entering the assigned seat and row.
The a la cart fees or as some call it, the “nickel and diming” of passengers, is apparently paying off for the airlines, because they collected about $1.9 billion from fees in the first quarter, the most recent period for which data is available from the Transportation Department.
American’s share of that was $261.1 million.
The “Express Seats” can only be bought at the airline’s kiosk, and only between 24 and 50 minutes before the flight, which sounds like another line to wait in with more stressed-out passengers.
CNN probably hit the nail on the head when it accurately said American was basically levying a surcharge for coach seats, which could lead to multiple classes of services, I surmise, within the coach section.
Imagine a “coach-express seat fare” followed by a “coach middle of the plane fare” plus a “coach exit row fare” and so on.
The generally irreverent JoeSentMe.com web site, a business traveler site, observed that the legacy carriers like American “continue to blow their brains out,” and he predicts the move will drive passengers to discount carriers Southwest and Jet Blue.
That may be. The airlines, most of which are deeply in debt, are aware of passenger sensitivity to price, so they won’t tinker with the basic fare.
But they will complicated the already complex life of the traveler by bundling and unbundling fees and add ons, assuming that the traveling public will expect nothing less!