Do You Want A Seat With That?

None of the fees, inconveniences and cutbacks that airlines have imposed over the past several years have made me cut back on flying. But the new fees to reserve seats might do it.

When airlines starting charging to check bags, I was annoyed. But I tend to travel light and I rarely checked bags, anyway.

When airlines cut out meal service and cut back on snacks, I started bringing my own food. It was better, anyway.

When airlines started charging for exit rows and blankets and pillows, I just said “no thanks” and made do.

But what they’re trying to do now (British Airways is the latest) is to charge me for choosing a seat when I make a reservation. Not a special seat in an exit row or with extra leg room or even on an aisle. Any seat.

So if I’m traveling in a group, with a small child or with someone who needs my assistance, I’ll have to pay up to be sure we can get two seats together. Because who knows what will be left over after the other passengers buy a seat reservation. Middle-seat hell, usually avoidable if you bought tickets early and checked in on time, will be the punishment for not paying the “optional” fee to give you more “choice.”

Southwest, which does not reserve seats, is doing essentially the same thing by selling early boarding passes. Want two seats together? Overhead luggage space? Pay up!

Of course this will increase pressure in the cabin for passengers who want to sit together to ask (or demand) that other passengers trade seats, a particular peeve of mine. It all adds up to the growing Mad Max fend-for-yourself atmosphere where understaffed jets are full of passengers jostling for seats, luggage space and elbow room with virtually no oversight.

The answer, of course, is for airlines to raise their ticket prices so that they can provide a reasonable level of customer service and comfort in the base fare. But the airlines don’t seem able to do that.

Can I have my high-speed rail now?

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