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American Airlines to charge for front-row seats

August 18, 2010|By Ameet Sachdev

Reporting from Chicago — American Airlines, in the quest for more non-ticket revenue, on Wednesday began charging customers who want to sit in the first few rows of coach on domestic flights.

Customers who pay the fee, which ranges from $19 to $39, will be among the first to board, giving them a chance to snag coveted overhead bins. As passengers carry on luggage to avoid baggage fees, overhead space has become harder to find.

The fees vary based on the length of the flight. For example, a front of the cabin seat on a Chicago-to-Honolulu flight will cost $39. A seat on a flight to Boston from Chicago will cost $29.

United Airlines also charges extra to reserve the first few rows of coach but its seats, called Economy Plus, offer more legroom. American touts its Express Seats as a faster way to get on and off planes. American did not specify in its news release how many rows of seats will be affected by the new charges.

Travel sites question the value of the American fee.

"Overall, the fee to sit closer to the front of the plane seems low value, but passengers who need to ensure that their carry-on baggage gets on board may be forced to pay it as more and more passengers try to avoid the checked bag fee," Matt Daimler, founder of SeatGuru.com, said in an e-mail.

Jami Counter, senior director of TripAdvisor Flights, said coach passengers concerned about bin space should consider paying $10 one-way for guaranteed access to the first group that boards after first-class and elite frequent fliers.

American has joined other carriers in charging fees for perks that used to be free. In June, the Fort Worth airline started offering a package that gives passengers "Group 1" boarding access, free standby for an earlier flight and a $75 discount off the $150 fee for changing flights.

Reserving coach seats beyond the first few rows will continue to be free on American. Elite frequent fliers and customers who pay full fares will not be subject to the new seat charges, the airline said.

Travelers can buy Express Seats only at American's self-service check-in kiosks at airports, from 24 hours before their trip to 50 minutes prior to scheduled departure.

asachdev@tribune.com

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