From The Bad Idea Files: Movie Theater Adding Surcharge For Middle Seats

Imagine you go to the theater to catch a movie you’ve been waiting to see. You get there early and snag a seat in the middle of the theater; no having to tilt your head back because you’re too close, or having to watch the whole movie at a strange angle because you’re set off to one side. But just as the previews are about to start, some latecomer with an usher in tow tells you to get up and find another seat because he paid a $3 surcharge and you didn’t.

That scenario seems destined to play out in a Toronto movie theater that plans to start hitting moviegoers with a few-dollar add-on fee if they want to sit in a seat in the middle of the theater.

The folks at Cineplex, which runs the theater Toronto’s Manulife Centre, say they’ve had success with surcharges for reserved seats for UltraAVX (IMAX) movies, so why not add some fees to regular flicks?

“It’s really about providing our guests with choices when they go to the movies,” a rep for Cineplex tells the Star, before then making a comparison that really hurts the company’s case. “I sort of position it akin to an aircraft where you have your regular coach seating, then you might want a bit more amenities, so you go into business class, and then you have a first-class.”

Except Cineplex isn’t offering more legroom, or better food, or better looking, multilingual flight attendants. These are just the same old seats that have always been available to moviegoers on a first-come basis, except for more money.

And just a hint to any business owner trying to make the case for extra fees to consumers — the airline industry is not exactly beloved because of its wide array of add-on costs that used to be part of the ticket price.

The company rep only makes things worse by admitting that these seats won’t be reserved in the traditional sense, saying that a ticket-holder who didn’t pay the surcharge could sit in one of those seats, but she’d have to move if someone who did pay the surcharge shows up “later on during the presentation.”

“We wouldn’t encourage that because it’s not only disruptive to them in the audience, but it’s also disruptive to all those folks around them,” says the rep, making absolutely no sense by this point.

So it’s a surcharge for a seat, but you don’t have to pay the surcharge to sit in the seat. All the surcharge really guarantees you is the right to kick someone out of the seat, but please don’t do that because it’s disruptive.

I know the stereotype of Canadians is that they’re super-polite, but I’ve seen enough punches thrown at hockey games to know that this isn’t always true. I have a hunch that this fee could result in seat disputes that land some moviegoers in the penalty box.

Thanks to NOJO for the tip!