AirTran Charges $15 For Exit Row Seat Assignment, Makes Customers Sad

Nickel and dimeing your customers leads to letters like this one, from reader Kristen who writes in to share an email her friend just got from AirTran, her favorite airline:

Hi Consumerist,

My friend received this e-mail from Airtran yesterday, stating how “convenient” it is that we can now pay for emergency exit row seats ahead of time to reserve them for our upcoming flights. I fly Airtran more than any other airline and almost never had any problem getting the emergency exit row for free when I arrived at the airport. I love Airtran for their direct flight from Orlando, FL to Rochester, NY, their free A+ Rewards program and affordable prices. Having to pay $15 each way to reserve my usually free emergency exit row could very well bump their prices above the competition, adding $30 round trip. Airtran – I understand many discount carriers are charging for these seats, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it as well! I don’t feel that this is any more convenient and might send me to another airline for business. Please reconsider your decision.

Thanks Consumerist,
Kristen

AirTran’s email inside.

AirTran writes:

From: AirTran Airways A+ Rewards Date: June 5, 2007 8:22:53 PM EDT Subject: Now you can choose your seat and get extra leg room!

To discontinue any further A+ Rewards marketing messages from AirTran, please access this page to quickly and easily unsubscribe: Remove me.

Dear (name) A+ Member Number (number)

To start the summer season, AirTran Airways is introducing a great new feature.

Advance Exit Row Seating

We know you sometimes like a little extra room when you fly. That’s why we’re now offering exit row seats at the time of booking, so you don’t have to wait until you arrive at the airport. An exit row seat gives you 8 more inches of legroom than a standard coach seat.

Convenience

Our new seat assignment options make travel even easier.

When you book a Discount Coach or Sale fare, you can now select your seat assignments, including exit row seats, at the time of booking for $5 per passenger for standard coach seats and $15 per passenger for exit row seats (per one-way trip).

With this new feature, you can opt for extra leg room in the exit row, make sure you get the aisle or window seat of your choice, or ensure your party all sit together. Business Class and Y, B, and M coach fares will continue to offer free regular seat selection during the booking process.

Already Booked?

If you have an existing reservation booked through AirTran.com or 1-800-AIR-TRAN, visit AirTran.com now to select an exit row seat. If you did not book your ticket directly through AirTran, call 1-800-AIR-TRAN to make your exit row seat selection.

As always, you can still opt to select your seats upon check-in for no fee. Check in online to select your seats up to 24 hours before your flight’s scheduled departure.

We’re always looking for new ways to improve your travel experience on AirTran Airways, and we look forward to welcoming you on a future flight.

Sincerely,

Tad Hutcheson
Vice President of Marketing and Sales AirTran Airways, Inc.

You are receiving this email because you are an A+ Rewards member subscribed as: (e-mail)

To discontinue any further A+ Rewards marketing messages from AirTran, please access this page to quickly and easily unsubscribe: Remove me

AirTran Airways 9955 AirTran Blvd. Orlando, FL 32827

AirTran Airways 2007

Lame!—MEGHANN MARCO

(Photo: Chris1024)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. rmz says:

    Fly Southwest. Check-in online — I’ve absolutely always gotten in Boarding Group A when I do that. Then, when you board the plane, sit in the very first row (assuming there are no disabled/elderly that need the seats). You’ll get tons of legroom and you’re the first to get off the plane, too. The only drawback is the lack of underseat storage or a tray table.

  2. DearEditor says:

    Curious. Up here in the Canadas, the check-in agent has to look at you and confirm, via a few scripted questions, that you will be physically able to open the exit door before they will assign you an exit row seat. Can you depend upon Grandma to open that door just because she paid the extra $15? Does AirTran have a new “easy-open” emergency door? How easily do you want that door opened, anyway?

  3. specialed5000 says:

    It is not just discount airlines that are doing this. Northwest has been doing it for a while.

  4. GirlGoneRiled says:

    What happens if no one reserves the seat(s) ahead of time? Do they go for free to the persons who arrive at the gate in time to request them?

    This is annoying but I don’t see it as that big a deal. AirTran and other airlines will increase charges up to the point where people won’t pay for them anymore. I doubt there are that many people who absolutely MUST have the exit row seats (want, sure, but *need*?) and if people are honest about their needs vs. wants and enough refuse to pony up the cash the fee will go away.

  5. bukkler says:

    And if no one decides to pay the $15.00 for the emergency seat, who will chuck the door out in the event of an emergency?

  6. freddie_fresh says:

    that’s weird cause i used to be a travel agent for an online website, and the policy was that they had to make sure you were physically fit to be able to handle an emergency situation.

  7. TedSez says:

    Yeah, this actually sounds kind of cheap compared to some other airlines, which are now claiming exit rows as part of an “upper-level coach” class that costs an extra $40 or so.

    What I wonder is whether the steady decrease in seat width and leg room just been a scheme all along, the idea being to make passengers so uncomfortable that they’ll gladly pay extra for seating that barely fits the contours of the human body.

  8. crnk says:

    @GirlGoneRiled:
    Totally correct–they charge BECAUSE the demand is there….the submitter obviously thought that she will always be able to get the same perks for free. @DearEditor:
    I think you’re totally wrong–last I know, FAA regulations still apply, and it is not possible to go exit row if you’re under 15 or unable to assist….no matter how much you pay an airline. Thus, the payment is in addition to other preexisting qualifications.

  9. jeffislouie says:

    It seems to me (and maybe I’m wrong) that they are giving people the option to *reserve* the seats for the nominal $15 fee. It also appears that if the seats haven’t been reserved, one can still get them for free.
    So- what’s the problem?
    I’m not seeing it.
    My guess is this is a way for people who really want the seat to make sure it is theirs.
    Otherwise, i believe the seats will still be available for no extra charge.
    Read:
    “As always, you can still opt to select your seats upon check-in for no fee.”
    this appears to be a way to give people the opportunity to guarantee they get the premium seats.

  10. creamsissle says:

    I’ve accepted the fact that this is the norm, and would be willing to pay the extra. For a recent trip on United, I paid $44 each leg for Economy Plus–more legroom than economy, but not as spacious as an exit row. And with United, you have to wait until check-in to purchase an upgrade, if they still exist. (Elites and those purchasing the unlimited annual E+ plan aren’t restricted, however.) At least AirTran is offering it at time of booking.

  11. Pelagius says:

    You’ll get over it.

  12. cgi5877 says:

    It’s BS I’m sorry–when you’re traveling with someone and want to sit together and book seats, sometimes the only open seats are singles. This just happened to me where the only available seats were either “free” singles or rows 1-5 (coach) with $ signs on them for purchase–not just the exit rows..It’s CRAP!

  13. minneapolisite says:

    @jeffislouie: I think you nailed it. This is a convenient option for people who don’t want to race to the ticket counter for a good seat. Some people feel wasting their time arriving extra-early isn’t worth saving $15. Good for them.

  14. Canadian Impostor says:

    Oh no I won’t get things for free anymore.

  15. snazz says:

    boo hoo hoo, kristen. deal with it! if you want to guarantee your extra leg room, pay for it. otherwise gamble that one will be open when you board the plane and get your free upgrade. i see nothing wrong with airlines wanting to charge more for premium seats.

  16. kubus_gt says:

    Your want, is airline’s income. You wanted cheap fare, you got it, but since that’s all you wanted, you are getting a seat, everything else is extra. Get used it people. Look up Skybus, new airline based out of Columbus, Ohio. They charge for everything, including checking the flight status… but the fare is only $10.

  17. badgeman46 says:

    I’m telling you, one day a new airline is going to offer old school service with hot towels and real food for a little more, and put an end to this crapola. I’d pay a litle more for those services, but not for using the crapper, which I can see looming on the horizon. Perhaps they will charge more for number two.

  18. cgi5877 says:

    “i see nothing wrong with airlines wanting to charge more for premium seats.”

    Again, premium seats should not include aisle or window seats i the first 10 rows–SUCK IT NWA!!

  19. BigDawg says:

    I know united is doing something like this! I flew with the family from Seattle to Chicago. The only seats open were the middle unless I wanted to pay an extra $40 per seat for a non middle seat. $40 x 4 make a big difference when price shopping! I wonder what the flight staff would really do with a 3 year old sitting in a middle seat buy her self?

    I think when fair shopping it should be posted with the price what seat you are really buying. It just seems like a bate and switch to me!

  20. Techguy1138 says:

    For an extra $100 Can I reservce airmarshall seat?

    Maybe if I pay enough I can get in one some cockpit jump seats?

    This is stupid in the fact that these seats have a special safty purpose and it is up the flight crew just before the time of departure to determine the fitness of people in the seats to carry out their instructions.

    If this reaaly doens’t matter then the seats should be unrestricted. Then they can be treated just like any other seat and the xtra legroom somthign your charged for.

    Otherwise I always looked at the extra leg room, but loss of at the feet storage as a requirement of the position of having a part in the safty of all the passengers on the plane.

    It seems a bit like paying to be an office firewarden. You get paid time to go to training, that is fun, but if the building burns down you make sure it’s exacuated and communicate with the firemen.

  21. XopherMV says:

    I’m 6’5″. When I sit in a regular seat on an airplane, the back of the chair in front of me is literally at my knees. I end up sitting such that my knees sit in the gap between the seats in front. It’s a little more comfortable that way, but not much.

    Further, because of my knees I’m sitting straight up. And since these chairs are designed for people of average height, I can not sit comfortably in the chairs. I get cramps in my back. And I can’t sleep because the headrest is too low.

    So, given all that, it really pisses me off to see 4’11″ tall girls sitting in the exit row just to have more leg room that they don’t need. They would sit just as comfortably in the normal row.

    Charging more for these seats sounds like a great idea to me. I’d certainly pay for the privilege, without even questioning the cost.

  22. Nightfall says:

    $5 to book a regular plain old cramped coach seat? Is this normal?

  23. B* says:

    I thought the possible responsibility of sitting in the exit row seats was what made up for the extra leg room?

  24. dwneylonsr says:

    This is just supply and demand. As long as people are willing to pay then they’re willing to charge.

    If the market dries up then they’ll go back to giving it away free.

    Everyone has a right to make a buck and you’re not being forced to pay the money if you don’t want it.

    And I agree with XopherMV. I’d be willing to pay the extra. It’ll be much easier to get an exit row seat and not have to depend on the luck of the draw.

  25. FatLynn says:

    @BigDawg: Were they charging you for non-middle? Or were they charging you for Economy Plus, and the only thing that was not Economy Plus was a middle?

  26. cgi5877 says:

    “If the market dries up then they’ll go back to giving it away free.”

    And you actually believe that? I tend to agree with badgeman46 in that they’re headed more toward charging to use the crapper road.

    They are just trying to get away with as much as they can–and there is nothing we can do about it and it blows. :O

  27. kwalkerberman says:

    It’s one more way for the airlines to make money while at the same time punish the people who have spent all their money on a ticket. Those that don’t have as much get punished once again. But, I would pay $50 to not have to sit by someone talking on their phone or someone who smells like they haven’t showered in ages.

  28. cgi5877 says:

    @FatLynn: For me, the only thing that was available was Ecomony Plus or 2 middles–so I booked the 2 middles online. When we got to the airport and checked in, one of the middles mysteriously got changed to the last row in the plane (which was not what I booked online). I complained that it was changed and that we would like new seats, TOGETHER. Actually the guy at the gate was really nice and gave my pregnant wife and I exit row seats. The whole having to pay extra for aisle or window seats just took me by surprise and left a bad taste in my mouth.

  29. MeOhMy says:

    The only thing that really bothers me about it is the “If we say it in a happy, upbeat way maybe no one will notice what just happened.”

    Don’t treat your customers like morons!

  30. jeffislouie says:

    @cgi5877:

    “If the market dries up then they’ll go back to giving it away free.”

    And you actually believe that? I tend to agree with badgeman46 in that they’re headed more toward charging to use the crapper road.

    They are just trying to get away with as much as they can–and there is nothing we can do about it and it blows. :O”

    Two things:
    First, that’s how the law of supply and demand works. If demand for something is high and supply doesn’t change, companies can charge more. If demand shrinks, they must adapt.
    So, yes. That might end up happening.
    Of course, you can still get the seats for free if you ask and they are available at the gate.
    This is for everyone:
    They are not charging for the seats. They are charging for the convenience of reserving the seats and guaranteeing that you get them.
    That’s the change. You don’t have to pay more for the seats if you don’t mind risking not getting them because someone else paid.
    As for the idea of ‘getting away with as much as they can’ – I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but airlines are not the business they used to be. It is an expensive operation to run and some big names have gone bankrupt trying to compete in a crowded market place.
    Ever heard of TWA, Pan-Am, Braniff, Canadian, Eastern, Frontier, Kiwi, Monarch, National, Ozark, Reno, or Western?
    All dead because they couldn’t keep their product profitable.
    They aren’t trying to get away with anything, they are trying to run a profitable business.
    Charging an extra $15 so people can reserve the convenience and extra comfort of the exit aisles is:
    a) no big deal
    b) not expensive
    and
    3) not something that you can’t get for free if you are willing to risk it.
    If you asked people just 50 years ago if air travel was going to be inexpensive and comfortable, many of them would have laughed at you.
    The rest believed we’d all be driving flying cars.

  31. Greganda says:

    I get that it’s a free market and all, but I find the whole experience of charging for “premium” seating to be completely tacky. When I recently went to book a flight on NWA and discovered I would have to pay $15 to sit in an aisle seat (I’m 7 mos. pregnant and have to pee about every 5 minutes), I was so offended I put in an extra hour of research to try to find an alternative flight on American so that I could vote my dollars.

    Not being able to find something on AA I did end up booking with NWA and decided to pony up for the exit row.

    Per several other commenters re. exits being premium seats not based on physical ability criteria, you will be pleased to know that on this flight your exit row was manned by a pregnant woman, two Japanese women who could not speak English, and a guy who was so drunk that he couldn’t walk straight and I don’t even know how they let him on the plane.

  32. jeffislouie says:

    they never gave it away for free.
    You used to be able to do exactly what you can do now, which is ask for it if it is available.
    What they did was add a service where you can reserve those seats specifically for a $15 premium, fyi.

  33. FatLynn says:

    @cgi5877: My point is that you are NOT being charged for window/aisle seats. The window/aisle seats have all been taken, so you have the option of upgrading to Economy Plus, where window/aisle seats are still available, or taking one of the remaining coach seats.

  34. cgi5877 says:

    @FatLynn: How are you defining “Economy Plus?” If you are talking about rows 1-6 or 1-10 or whatever (I don’t remember exactly) then, yes, they were trying to charge me for window/aisle seats!

  35. krunk4ever says:

    @jeffislouie: Exactly what I was going to say. I don’t really see a problem here and they’re not forcing you to pay that $15. I mean not everyone is guaranteed the exit row seat.

    If someone else got the exit row seat before you, are you going to complain that they removed the free exit row seat perk for you?

    The only thing different now, is that you can pay a bit extra for the seat and not have to fight for it by being the earliest to request it. I see that as a totally fine scheme as it allows them to make more money and allows those who are willing to pay a bit extra to get a more comfortable seat. It’s just marketing…

    If the seat is still unreserved when you get to the airport, someone’s probably going to occupy it for free.

  36. cgi5877 says:

    ITS BULLSHIT!!!!!! I pay $800 for 2 tickets–I should be able to sit with my fucking wife and not get charged a fee. There were a good 8 or 9 window/aisle seats at the front of the plane that they wanted to charge people for–so we had to resort to Middle in row 13 and middle in row 21…poop!

  37. Mojosan says:

    How dare the grocery store charge me more for a strip steak than for ground chuck!

    /wait, what were we discussing gain?

  38. Canadian Impostor says:

    @kwalkerberman: Not getting the fancy exit row seat is hardly being punished.

    It’s not like the airline is shaking people down for cash on the flight, and anyone who doesn’t pay up loses an inch of legroom each time.

  39. DearEditor says:

    @crnk: Sorry to be too subtly ironic. I don’t think the flight crew would allow someone unequal to the task to occupy an exit row. If you are shuffled out of one of those seats, do you get your $15 back? That being said, fifteen bucks for more legroom on a long flight seems well worth it.

  40. cgi5877 says:

    you weren’t able to book seats in the exit rows to begin with–so the exit row seats are not the issue. the issue is now they block off the first 6 rows as being “premium” seats. so now, there’s 20+ perfectly good seats that you can’t book online w/o paying extra. so unless you’re one of the first people to book the flight, windows and aisles will all be picked over = lame

  41. MMD says:

    I usually fly Southwest but was forced to fly AirTran recently. I’ve never been treated more rudely. They lost me as a customer forever even before this nickel and diming came up. Thanks for posting this story – I still haven’t written my complaint letter about the staggering rudeness…

  42. BadCall says:

    I just paid $5 for an aisle seat on an Airtran flight next weekend from LaGuardia to Akron. If that $5 means I won’t be stuck in a middle seat with a Louis Vuitton-carrying princess putting her seat all the back into my 6′ 3″ frame, then sign me up anyday.

  43. FatLynn says:

    @cgi5877: Assuming three seats, an aisle, and three more seats on the other side (which I believe is the most common configuration for domestic commercial aircraft), you need to be in the first 66.6% of people to book in the coach section of the flight to get two adjacent seats.

    Yes, rows 1-10 are now Economy Plus. They have more leg room, and therefore cost more. You can’t expect to get those seats for free any more than you can expect a free upgrade to business class.

  44. Youthier says:

    @FatLynn: I have to say, I’ve never had a problem with sitting next to my husband on a plane. We typically don’t book together either since I travel for trade shows through my company and he decides later whether to come or not. They always take care of it at the counter.

  45. ATTSlave says:

    Is that airport in the picture Philly?

  46. cabinaero says:

    @cgi5877: Woah woah woah — they put your pregant wife in an exit row? I’m sorry but that should not have happened. Nothing against you or your wife, it’s a pure safety issue. They should have moved someone out of a bulkhead row and into an exit row instead.

  47. LTS! says:

    All this complaining.. and tomorrow.. you’ll be on a plane to get somewhere.

    Let the airlines do what they want.. stop using them if you don’t like it. Moved too far away from your family? Suck it up.. it was your choice. Your family moved away from you? Tell them to fly to you.

    Your job making you fly? Well, if you can’t get a comfortable seat (and it’s not on your dime anyway) then get a new job…

    Wow am I getting sick of the incessant whining about airlines on here. It’s as though everyone thinks you can fly for free, sit anywhere, do anything, and not be inconvenienced one bit while you do it and that the airlines will just keep running. Perhaps airlines should just charge a fee to reserve ANY seat… this way all the whining cheapskates can suffer more.

    Just remember, no one made you get on the plane.

  48. Buran says:

    @badgeman46: I don’t understand the hot towels reference. I have a song in my music collection dating from the 70s that includes ‘the hostess is handing the hot towels around’ as a reference to a flight on a plane — but I was born in the mid 70s and don’t remember any flights I made during that time.

    So what’s up with the hot towels? (I know “hostess” means the flight attendant – the artist is a British guy and that’s probably a British-ism).

  49. Buran says:

    @Greganda: So… you caved. Nice.

    You should have explained the problem to the guy at the gate and if he decided to be a jerk and not helped you, written an email to the company executives.

    Or you could have flown some other airline that doesn’t pull this crap.

  50. Buran says:

    @cabinaero: And yeah, I agree with this commenter, that was the WRONG thing to do. Sorry, but she was not eligible for that seat because she wouldn’t have been able to handle assisting others out of the plane in the event of an emergency, so she should have had to sit elsewhere. You, maybe, were OK for the exit row but your demanding that space put everyone on the plane in danger.

    How nice that selfishness and “I want to be able to get to the bathroom easily” is more important to you than that. Why not ask to be seated in an aisle seat near the bathroom then?

    EXIT ROWS ARE NOT THERE FOR COMFORT OR CONVENIENCE. Has it sunk in yet, people?

  51. Buran says:

    @LTS!: Wow, so it’s OK with you to be nickel and dimed for stuff that you didn’t get nickel and dimed for before, and get treated with contempt by rude customer service people!!?

    What color is the sky on YOUR planet?

  52. MeOhMy says:

    @Buran:

    I don’t understand the hot towels reference.

    On some flights they used to give you a hot steamy towel to freshen up. I remember thinking this was really cool when I first flew on a plane in the mid-80s.

    I did get a hot towel on a flight recently. Maybe it was Virgin. International flights still seem to be somewhat decent.

  53. billhelm says:

    nwa has done this for a while. I’ve paid it many times. Previously, you could not reserve exit rows until you checked in at the airport. That required getting there very early. It’s worth the fee to me.

  54. cgi5877 says:

    @FatLynn: “Yes, rows 1-10 are now Economy Plus. They have more leg room”

    Lie–they do not have more leg room..these are the same planes they’ve always used.

  55. Funklord says:

    Nickel and diming indeed. Along with United’s repeated pitches to get you to pay $40 to “upgrade” to a seat with a reasonable amount of legroom, they repeatedly make announcements forbidding you from changing seats once you’re on the plane. The last (keyword, “last”) time I flew with them, the plane was full, so the point was moot. But has anyone experienced any issues with this? Will United prevent you from moving to an empty row that you didn’t pay extra for?

    The thing to remember is that one usually has choices when flying, and any airline that chooses a customer-unfriendly practice like this to make a pittance extra will lose customers to other airlines that treat their customers better.

  56. cgi5877 says:

    Juice by you Funklord! Couldn’t resist.

  57. FatLynn says:

    @cgi5877: They have removed seats from the planes to provide more legroom. I believe it is 6″ more, but don’t quote me on that. If you don’t believe me, check out seatguru.com. You will see that the United planes have fewer seats than the same model plane operated by other airlines.

    United offers these seats as a privilege to frequent fliers, or to others who pay for them. If the plane is full, you may luck out and get one for free by checking in at the last minute.

  58. cgi5877 says:

    Yeah, well I was on another airline–NWA. Do you represent United or something?

  59. FatLynn says:

    @cgi5877: Sorry, I confused two complaints. I haven’t flown NWA in years, so I don’t know what makes their first ten rows premium seats. Perhaps it is just the privilege of getting on and off the plane first. Either way, though, if people are willing to pay for them, then you shouldn’t expect to get them for free.

    And no, I don’t represent an airline. I am a frequent flier on UA and AA, and my flights are often made less pleasant by travelers who waste time arguing with ticketing and gate agents over things like seating assignments.

  60. cgi5877 says:

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  61. steinwaytony says:

    Dear Kristen,

    Are you 6’6″? I am. I don’t like you. Stop complaining.

  62. Michael says:

    @Troy F.: Virgin charges US$70 (if I remember correctly) for exit row seats, and their food, seat room, and service are nothing like they used to be. Entertainment is still very good, though.

    I still recommend Virgin for international flights; they’re not as good as they once were, but they’re a hell of a lot better than the altneratives.

  63. OutandAbout says:

    We just went to online seat selection for an AirTran flight tomorrow, and we’re told the only way 2 can sit together is to pay the extra $20 for the “convenience” of exit-row seats. We didn’t even know about the fee until now. We don’t particularly want the seats, but we have to take them or sit several rows apart. This strikes us as a bait-and-switch tactic that defeats the purpose of flying an economy-airline. We’re complaining to AirTran and We’re complaining to Southwest — AirTran’s new owner — which ought to tell AirTran to end this practice and preserve its goodwill. It’s not illegal, it’s just shabby. We’ll look elsewhere next time.