Pay It Forward: Airline Front Seat Fees Hardly Worth It
August 18, 2010, 4:54 PM ET
By Scott McCartney
American Airlines has joined the pay-it-forward seating plan by asking customers to pony up an additional $19-$39 just to sit in the first several rows of the coach cabin on domestic flights. That includes bulkhead seats, which won’t be available to elite-level frequent fliers unless they pay extra, too.
American’s “Express Seats’’ offer is similar to the preferred seating payment option at US Airways. Airlines know that seats at the front are preferable to many travelers – you get off the plane faster, and you likely get served your beverage first. So they charge for the privilege, and give you the added perk of boarding in an early group so you’ll be sure to find empty overhead bin space available.
Is it worth it? I generally think sitting in row 6 (behind first class) instead of row 20 isn’t worth an extra $30—I’d rather have a nice dinner at my destination than get off the plane four minutes faster. I do think it’s worth paying extra for better seating when it is actually better seating, such as the extra legroom you get with United’s “Economy Plus’’ and jetBlue’s front rows that have ample legroom. With American and US Airways, there’s no extra legroom. Just a different row number (and earlier boarding).
Bulkhead seats, too, aren’t the great space they used to be. Airlines have squeezed some of the legroom out of first-row seating in the coach cabin, and sometimes it can be quite cramped up against the bulkhead. On American, you also can’t store anything under your seat—it all has to go into an overhead bin when you are in a bulkhead row. And the seats are a bit skinnier because the tray tables are stored in the armrests, not on the back of the seat in front of you.
SeatGuru.com notes that on American’s 737s, 767s and MD-80s, legroom “can be restricted’’ in the bulkhead rows. On the 757-200, however, the coach bulkhead row, which is also an exit row, has extra legroom. But it’s not included in the “Express Seats’’ offer.
All in all, it might be worth $30 to you if that’s the only way to avoid a middle seat on a long flight. Otherwise, just remember that the back of the plane gets to your destination at the same time as the front of the plane.