Continental To Charge For Exit Rows

Continental Airlines will begin March 17 to charge a fee for passengers who sit in exit rows that provide extra leg room, as the Chicago Tribune reports.

This is depressing but otherwise sort of unremarkable. It’s the kind of “unbundling” that the airlines have been doing for a while now.

The reason I had to remark on it was this quote:

“Our customers want more choices,” said Jim Compton, Continental’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “Seats with additional legroom are higher-value seats, and we want to offer them to customers who recognize that value.”

Please. When did the airlines get the idea that “choice” is a synonym for “fee.”

If you’re going to start charging for something that you didn’t previously charge for, it’s not particularly honest to suggest that you’re giving the customer some new choice. Continental’s passengers always had the option of sitting in an exit row, if they booked early enough to snag one. They have no new choices here, just a new fee to pay.

Besides, exit row seats aren’t some sort of perk, like the cursed economy plus on United Airlines. They’re a safety feature, and sitting in one involves some responsibility to fellow passengers. It’s kind of unseemly to be auctioning them off.

Also, the company’s press release refers to these seats as “premium seats.” They’re not. In most cases they’re no wider than typical seats, and in some cases they don’t recline.

And if you’re going to charge extra for these “higher-value seats,” shouldn’t you discount for seats that are “lower-value?” I mean the ones near the bathrooms, the ones that don’t recline because they’re at the very back, or in front of an exit row.

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