AA’s “Express seat” fee — paying for almost nothing


American Airlines’ latest “Express” seat fee isn’t quite as bad as a mandatory credit card fee or check-in fee, it’s another step in that direction.

There are two kinds of fees in the airline industry – the fees that are optional and really add value, like United’s economy plus, and the fees that really add almost nothing, except profits to the airline’s bottom line, like seat reservation fees and pillow and blanket fees.

With this new AA front-of-the-plane fee, you aren’t buying more legroom, you’re simply buying a seat — even potentially a middle seat — closer to the front of the plane, with easier on/off access and earlier boarding.

While no doubt this fee is subject to change, the Associated Press reported yesterday that even elite fliers would pay this surcharge, although they would have access to other “premium seats.”

(As an aside, if American Airlines really plans to charge their elites, I would expect there would be a good chance they will change their mind. Nasty emails and cut-up frequent flier cards mailed from high-dollar passengers have a way of making airlines rethink things.)

But the disturbing question here — where does it all stop?

Yes, most people prefer to sit up front instead of in the back, although a few of my clients actually ask for seats towards the back if the plane doesn’t look full, since they think they are more likely to have an empty seat next to them.

Some of these following new fees may start showing up on legacy carriers regularly. So far, some airline have some of these fees. We all know, however, that the airlines are capable of imposing fees at any time for any supposed service.

• If the first rows are pricier, why then not make any window seat not over the wing pricier, because the view is better? Various airlines already charge more exit rows and aisle seats.

• Why not charge for any seat that isn’t a middle seat. (Middle seats will become very popular.)

• Charge for overhead bin space? (Spirit is leading the way.)

• Charge for being one of the first passengers to be served a paid drink for first certain choice of your entree in first or business class. (On no! Chicken and pasta again?)

• Reading lights and air vents may come become coin-operated.

For any readers that are thinking, “Don’t give the airlines any ideas,” They seem to be perfectly capable of dreaming these things up on their own.

  • Michael

    Rest Room Fee Schedule:
    Access Fee – $.50
    Toilet Paper – $.03 per sheet
    Soap – $.05 per squirt
    Paper Towel – $.05 per sheet
    Flush Surcharge – $.10

    Rest Room Carte Blanche – $5.00 Unlimited

  • MeanMeosh

    I had to do a double take when you said the fee also applies to elites – since this seemed to directly contradict what AA and a couple of Dallas Morning News articles said when this was rolled out last week. And I was aghast to see that you’re right – elites have to pay for the “express seats” just like everyone else, according to AA’s website, because the “preferred seats” that elites are used to having are separate from the express seats. BUT, I’m thinking this may largely be a non-issue, at least for now. Just for kicks, I pulled up some random seat maps in mid-October. It appears that the “first few rows of economy” touted by AA are, in fact, the first TWO rows in economy, rows 7 and 8. Row 7 is the bulkhead, which is probably of limited value to elites, since they can book the exit rows instead if they want the extra room (and I, for one, hate bulkhead seats because it forces me to stick my laptop in the overhead). So really, elites are only losing one row of seats. Slightly irritating, perhaps, but probably not enough to cause a massive uprising – in other words, quite clever of AA to go right up to the line of obnoxiousness with their elites without really crossing it.

    Now, if you’re an elite, what you’re worried about is that if this proves to be a money maker for AA, additional rows will be blocked off as “express seats”, thus squeezing you further back. THAT would start getting people ticked off. I’ll certainly fire off a nasty e-mail at that point.

    Overall, though, I agree with your point. I just don’t see why someone would pay for this. If you’re a hog bin and want to ensure that you get overhead space, you can just pay the $10 for Group 1 boarding (I might add, that’s the one component of “Your Choice” that actually does make some sense to me). Plus, as you noted, you’re not really getting extra legroom, unless you consider the bulkhead extra legroom. And finally, why not just roll the dice and try to snag one of those seats for free? I guarantee AA isn’t going to let a plane fly with empty seats, so if not enough people buy the express seats, they’ll start giving them away to standbys, people without seat assignments, and people wanting to switch seats starting at 50 minutes before departure. I guess the only scenario I can envision where this makes some sense is if you book a tight connection, and want to ensure that you’re sitting up front so you can make a mad dash off the plane – but I would argue, with the general unpredictability of airline schedules, why bother?

  • The Roadrunner

    Enough is enough already! Deregulation may have kept airfares in check, but it’s allowed the airlines to cram more and more (increasingly overweight) people into the same space. Congress needs to man up and legislate minimum seat widths and pitches: 20″ width and 34-35″ seat pitch. Air travel used to be a luxury and enjoyable. Now it’s worse than riding the bus.

  • C Smith

    At what point will the flying public especially the frequent fliers tell the airlines to “DROP DEAD!,” and stop flying unless ABSOLUTELY necessary???

    If I ran a rent a car company, I would tell my marketing department to take FULL advantage of the airline’s stupidity. There is so much they could do to make rentals more enticing!

  • MeanMeosh

    @ Roadrunner – “Congress needs to man up and legislate minimum seat widths and pitches: 20″ width and 34-35″ seat pitch. Air travel used to be a luxury and enjoyable.”

    And are you willing to pay $1,000+ for that flight from DFW to JFK in coach? Because that’s what it’ll cost you to get the same service you were used to in the 70s. Low prices or luxury service – you can’t have it both ways.

  • Lyn G

    Business travelers should just avoid AA entirely. It is obvious they don’t care about frequent flyers and want to squeeze every penny out of all passengers rather than provide a few perks to loyal customers. Start flying other airlines, like Delta or UA-CO, because at some point AA will either merge with US Air or go out of business.

  • Frank

    MeanMeosh August 24, 2010 at 11:39 am
    @ Roadrunner – “Congress needs to man up and legislate minimum seat widths and pitches: 20″ width and 34-35″ seat pitch. Air travel used to be a luxury and enjoyable.”

    What?? Why legislate seat widths and pitches? YOU already have a choice when booking a flight. First, Business or COACH. All THREE have different widths and pitches, it’s YOUR CHOICE!

  • The Roadrunner

    First, a decent seat pitch and width should be a basic fundamental right of travel, not a “luxury.” Second, most planes don’t have 3 cabins, maybe 2 unless you’re on a regional jet, where there is only 1. And more and more flights are on RJs. The traveling public deserves a decent amount of space when they travel — if it’s not in the Constitution, it should be.

  • Daves

    This is a “who cares?” fee as far as I’m concerned. I have nothing against avoidable fees. Non-avoidable fees should be required by law to be quoted in the fare price.