For travelers who fly frequently, the middle seat is rapidly becoming a big no-no, yet the unlucky seat is getting harder and harder to avoid, thanks to the rising costs of travel.
People who prefer to sit at the window or even the aisle should now be ready to empty out their pockets for the coveted seats, as an increasing number of airlines hoping to make some extra dough are marking the seats as luxury and charging more for them.
Southwest Airlines, which does not assign passengers to specific seats, raised the price of early boarding from $12.50 to $15. For those who cannot pay up, it’s a mad rush to be the first one in the queue when check-in opens up 24 hours ahead of the flight.
Delta Air Lines’ basic economy fare, which was introduced last year, does not allow seat selection until after the check-in — and by that time, people who can afford to pay higher have had a chance to claim the aisle and window seats.
Predictably, United Airlines and American Airlines are following suit by introducing similar charges this year. It is not yet confirmed whether seat selection would be one of the benefits removed but it’s likely, in light of the cost pressure faced by airlines from low-fare carriers.
Recommended: Airlines Shed Catering Units For Higher Margins
Max Rayner, a partner at consulting firm Hudson Crossing, says it is understandable that at peak times customers will have to pay more for certain seats as there is a competition to buy plane tickets.
But fliers have to resort to extreme measures not to get stuck in the middle.
Some travelers have offered other passengers money or drinks to switch seats while others have feigned illnesses.
Dr. Sachin Shridharani, a plastic surgeon, was willing to wait hours and take another flight just to avoid the notorious middle seat.
Mauri Rogoff, a public relations officer, had to endure a flight trapped between a quarreling couple, one of which had very bad smelling feet.
In the end, airline analysts say, airlines are selling a type of real estate — only instead of paying square feet, you have to pay per square inch for a halfway decent seating arrangement. Yet even as the airlines raise their fares, services have been deteriorating and thousands of people have to spend up to 24 hours in airport to wait for delayed flights.