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!

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  1. Mala says:

    First I feel bad for the ushers that will have to implement this preferred seating. I can just imagine how unpleasant it will be for them to deal with booting early arrivals out of good seats… If the theater sells the best seats at a premium price, will they sell the most undesirable seats for a couple bucks less? Will they properly warn regular priced ticket holders that they can be booted out of their seats at any moment? There is so much fail waiting to happen with this setup!

    • MarthaGaill says:

      I think it would only work if all seats are assigned. I’ve been to a lot of new theaters where you pick your seat as you purchase your ticket and that is where you sit. I really doubt it would work with some seats reserved and some first come first serve.

    • oomingmak says:

      This is a horrible, horrible system that will only result in angry customers.

      The biggest flaw for me is that booted customers will have to choose, right before a movie starts, from the remaining seats. So, assuming a popular film and that the theater has filled up quite a bit since they got there early, they’ll only be left with those nasty seats in the front row corner.

      It’s also going to make the middle-seat buying customers feel ripped off if they pay the $3 surcharge to then find out they’re in a near empty theater with plenty of “free” middle seats all around them.

      So much fail.

  2. CommonC3nts says:

    I always liked sitting in a seat next to the aisle. I dont get why people would want to sit in the very middle of everyone then it is a pain in the ass to get up to go to the concessions by having to walk past everyone.

    This plan will not work if they start kicking people out of seats who where there first.
    To do this they need to have assigned seats where you chose your seat when you buy the ticket.

  3. Snarkapus says:

    What they’re also overlooking is those who get there early to get the prime seats are also captives to all of the insipid ads. They can’t have it both ways….

  4. SingleMaltGeek says:

    If I get to the theater early enough to sit in a good seat and it’s general admission, they had better be prepared to refund my ticket if they want me to move.

  5. webalias says:

    I actually don’t mind this policy, depending on how it’s implemented. There are some seats in most theaters where the viewing angle is so bad that watching the movie is a second-rate experience. If I can I have the option to pay more to be guaranteed a better seat, I like having that choice. If it’s going to cost me $20 or so for the ticket, popcorn, etc., and a crappy viewing angle, I’d rather spend an extra $3 for a better overall experience. In any case, some people are going to end up in good seats and some in lousy ones. This system seems preferable to “whoever-gets-there-first” — particularly when some customers who arrive early feel they have the right to “save” multiple additional seats for friends who may show up whenever. What I’d find unacceptable is being asked to relocate once I’ve sat down — unless the theater had made it clear in advance that a certain area was reserved, and I was sitting there subject to such relocation.

  6. limbo says:

    I’m happy this will never effect me. Where I live, “Premium” theaters are all the rage. I get a nice comfy large reclining chair, I get bar service, and I get no children sitting nearby. Worth every penny. And I pick my seat when I buy the tickets. If you don’t have this in your area, you should feel bad.