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Window- and Aisle-Seat Fees: A Family Travel Tax?

By SHANNON KELLY

Several U.S. airlines are now charging extra fees for aisle and window seats and, in some cases, embargoing some of these seats for their elite-status customers, the Associated Press reports.

This isn’t exactly new. US Airways introduced its ChoiceSeats program in 2008, charging more for window and aisle seats near the front of the cabin. And most airlines have begun charging more for bulkhead and exit-row seats and other so-called perks. But now the trend seems to be growing, with American, Delta and Spirit charging for window and aisle seats. (In Canada, charter company CanJet is the only airline that currently charges for such seats: $20 for a window seat.)

The fees are an inconvenience for anyone not travelling alone, but for families with children it can be a real headache. (Not to mention for the stranger who might be seated next to someone else’s child.) Not only because flying becomes more expensive, but because airlines are making these “preferred” seats harder to get.

Those who get their tickets early enough can shell out the extra fee—about $5 to $30 per seat each way—to sit together. But setting some seats aside for frequent travellers with the airline will create a false scarcity, forcing families and friends who book ahead to sit apart. When aisle and window seats that haven’t been used are released at regular cost shortly before the flight date, people will be understandably miffed to be travelling next to an empty aisle seat rather than their spouse.

In fact, the Associated Press found that:

“On a July flight from Dallas to San Francisco on American, a recent search showed only 28 of 144 coach seats available for passengers unwilling to pay extra. Of those, 21 were middle seats. There were five spots where a couple could sit together; groups of three or more were out of luck.

It was dramatically different for elite frequent fliers. They could pick from 75 seats including nine rows with four or more seats together.”

Thus far, consumers (at least those who are vocal online commenters) seem of the opinion that they’ll refuse to pay such fees. But we wonder if that will hold once they become standard, like, say, the fees for snacks on most flights. We also wonder what airlines will dream up to charge extra for next.

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