May 23, 2012 at 12:51 PM ET
It’s not just enough to buy your airplane ticket anymore: Increasingly, along with checking baggage, airlines want you to pay extra to ensure a seat next to your travel companions, including your spouse or child.
That’s sure to lead to unhappiness during the coming busy summer travel season, with passengers already toting their own suitcases and carrying their own food to avoid paying additional fees. In many cases, it may cost as much as $25 — each way — to ensure you and your companion sit together. And last month, United Airlines ended its policy of allowing families traveling with small children to board early, USA Today reports.
It’s tough news for many summer travelers. Airlines have successfully raised airfares three times this year. Business travelers are already facing fares that will likely rise this year an average of four percent in North America, according to the Egencia's 2012 Global Corporate Travel Forecast. Egencia is an Expedia, Inc. company.
Regarding the seat reservation fees, it works like this: Airlines are reserving a growing number of window and aisle seats for passengers willing to pay extra for them, the Associated Press reports. While airlines say it's a move to boost revenue, the policy is making it harder for friends and family members who don't pay this fee to sit next to each other. At the peak of the summer travel season, it might be nearly impossible, the AP reports.
Since last summer, American, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines and United Airlines have increased the percentage of coach seats requiring some kind of extra fee. Allegiant Air and Spirit Airlines charge extra for any advanced seat assignment, according to the AP.
“I think it’s going to fall flat on its face,” predicted travel psychologist Michael Brein, PhD, of Bainbridge Island, Wash. “It’s pushing the envelope a little far for travelers. People have had it up to here with fees, and this one sounds not so well thought out to me.”
George Hobica, founder and president of the Internet travel site Airfarewatchdog, said he thinks the fees are reasonable. “When you think about it, when you go to a theater, a Broadway play, you always pay extra for better seats. They’re doing the same thing.”
Airlines are having a tough time, Hobica points out: “Two of our remaining airlines lost money last quarter, and the industry as a whole had a 1.5 percent profit margin. I’m all about low airfares — it’s been my stock in trade for almost 20 years. But the traveling public has had it good at expense of the airlines… People need to be honest and should buck up and say if they want these low fares, then the people who want special service should pay (extra) for it.”
One airline bucking the trend is the Seattle-based Alaska.
“We do not charge for priority seating, or seating together at Alaska Airlines,” said spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey. “We do hold some seats out for last-minute booking by our elite member frequent fliers and passengers with disabilities, but in general you should be able to find seats together for your family.”
Now and again, that can be a challenge, Lindsey said.
“In some instances, however, with full flights, families may not be seated together,” she said. “In this instance, we do all that we can to accommodate families requesting seating together, including asking if there are other travelers that would be willing to change their seats for the family. If all four cannot be seated together we try to at least get one parent with each child. Oftentimes, once families are onboard, other travelers offer to move to accommodate the family, and our flight attendants help facilitate this.”
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