Want Extra Legroom Or To Sit With Your Kids? Airlines Say ‘Pay Up’

Image courtesy of franieleon

If you’ve booked airline seats for your family or for another group that wants to sit together recently, you might have noticed how few seats were available to you if you’re not an elite member of a loyalty program. It’s not just you: airlines are making changes so that the privilege of deciding where to sit is reserved only for big-spending customers, or travelers willing to pay up for the privilege.

The Wall Street Journal explained this problem as part of its aptly named “Middle Seat” series. Here’s a chart that shows the different seats on a transatlantic American Airlines flight available to people according to frequent-flyer status:

This poses a particular problem if you’re traveling with young children and want to sit with them. If you don’t want the stress of negotiating with the gate agent or with fellow passengers, it makes sense to reserve in advance. Now that costs extra, and some lawmakers think it’s unfair.

“Other passengers may not be as interested in sitting next to my kids as I am,” observes Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, one of the sponsors of a federal amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration’s reauthorization bill, which would require airlines to offer seat assignments to families if they offer any assigned seating for free. Airlines that charge for any assigned seats would be exempt.

This isn’t even a unique problem to American carriers. One woman planning an extended-family trip to Africa encountered the fees with British Airways, which charged between $51 and $58 per person to seat people in their group together.

The problem for her is the shifting definition of what a “regular” seat on a plane is. Choosing your seat when booking used to be part of buying airline tickets and rolled into the price. Now it’s extra.

“To me, just knowing where you are sitting, that is the normal thing,” the Kenya-bound Texan told the WSJ. “You buy a seat and it seems fraudulent to charge more money for a regular seat.” A reserved seat no longer is a “regular” seat.

The Airline Fee to Sit With Your Family [Wall Street Journal]

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