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“A Modest Proposal to Boycott Seat Selection Fees”

“A Modest Proposal to Boycott Seat Selection Fees”
Jeff Edwards

A FlyerTalker recently posed a fascinating question, “What if there was an initiative to boycott paid advance seat selection that gained massive/viral traction?” Alongside a few especially jaded dismissals of the very notion, a thought-provoking debate about the nature of consumer leverage and the laws of supply and demand ensued.

FlyerTalk member MasterGeek raised an interesting issue: What if passengers simply refused to pay just one of the new fees airlines seem to invent by the day? Would airline executives realize the error of their ways or would consumers eventually lose their resolve causing an inevitable return to business as usual?

“What if there was an initiative to boycott paid advance seat selection that gained massive/viral traction? Will airlines stop charging for advance seat selection?” the user queried. “To me charging for seat selection is like to making travelers bid against each other for the desirable seats, but if travelers collude and constitute a collective collaborative bloc, perhaps there will be change.”

The consensus of those responding on the forums overwhelmingly leaned toward the “probably will never know” camp. A few FlyerTalkers also took a decidedly more Ayn Rand view of daring to question one’s high-ranking corporate betters in airline boardrooms.

In fact, there are already a handful of efforts on social media to protest unfair fees levied on travelers. The online group “Kill Resort Fees” urges travelers not only to avoid hotels charging often hidden resort fees but also encourages guests to dispute the charges with credit card companies, take hotels to court and file complaints with the Fair Trade Commission (FTC). The Twitter group ExitRowForTheTall is more about shaming airlines for charging taller passengers extra fees to sit in exit rows and extra legroom seats but occasionally stops just short of advocating boycotts of certain carriers. Based on the growing number of travelers subject to airline seat selection fees and hotel resort fees, it isn’t clear how much headway either group is making.

With a few notable historic exceptions, consumer boycotts haven’t been especially successful (if they were effective, then The Simpsons might have been canceled decades ago). In the age of social media, however, joining a boycott can also mean easily connecting with like-minded peers. While expecting consumers to remain disciplined is a big ask, networking with those who share your same concerns can be a remarkably powerful way to effect change.

Is a boycott over seat selection fees worth the effort or are consumers already getting exactly what they wanted in rock bottom fares with a slew of a la carte fees? The at- times contentious debate (and a bonus discussion of “Newton’s Law of the Online Forum”) continues here.

 

[Featured Image: Shutterstock]

View Comments (42)

42 Comments

  1. jjangoo

    June 22, 2019 at 6:16 am

    People don’t care. They’ll pay it, companies will pay it, I’ll pay it if I need it. Of all the issues we should rally the country on, this is pretty far down on the list.

  2. Mike770

    June 22, 2019 at 6:16 am

    well Qatar airways have lost another possible quite regular customer to the far east due to their £12 per seat charges which is charged on 4 sector flight to/from far east = idiots and they fly from a local airport here but it is cheaper to fly from London Heathrow etc including national express prices and use another airline with no such stupid charges = total saving to me 85 pounds

  3. AJNEDC

    June 22, 2019 at 6:19 am

    I for one firmly believe in voting with my pocket. I have never and have no intention of paying additionally for any seat choice. I simply just avoid carriers that have this policy.

  4. Hitchin

    June 22, 2019 at 6:23 am

    The most pernicious airline in my view is BA. A single Business/Club flyer is guaranteed a seat without paying any extra, if you choose a seat 24 hours before the flight. Select a seat before then and it’s £90+ ew transatlantic. But If you are a couple, and you want to or must sit with your partner (e.g. for medical reasons) you have to pay for selection to guarantee you’ll be together – £360+ for a transatlantic return flight. And this applies to codeshare flights operated by BA, whoever you book with (in our case BA).

  5. kc1174

    June 22, 2019 at 6:34 am

    Fares aren’t exactly rock bottom though. BA for example – up to $93 each way to select a Club World J seat. Add to that the fuel surcharges… A $4,000 to $8,000 transatlantic flight and an extra $186 to pick a seat, and you won’t know which seats are even available until you’ve already booked the flight.
    I say boycott. And take your own food on flights. Don’t buy their stuff, and don’t take credit card promo leaflets/applications from FAs.

  6. Mike Rivers

    June 22, 2019 at 6:41 am

    How would someone “boycott” or refuse to pay a fee and still get booked on a flight? I don’t think more than a handful of frequent flyers would, in protest, only book their flight at the basic economy fare. Or is the proposal that, whatever fare class you choose to fly, you don’t choose a seat that has a fee associated with it? With certain fares and certain membership levels, you can have any seat you want, so if you’re of the “privileged” class, there’s no way to boycott.

    The way the industry works these days, what one airline does, the others do. If, for example, a large number of people stopped flying on United and booked on another airline (and paid the seat fees there as long as they’re willing), perhaps United might take to the suggestion that “I’d fly with you if I didn’t have to pay extra for an aisle seat” and the rest of the airlines would follow. But for many, I feel that giving up their privileges on one airline for a possible greater good might be too much of an obstacle.

    I’m just a peon, so the only way I get an exit row seat nowadays is on Southwest when I check in early enough to get a good place in line. I remember the Goode Olde Days when I was able to reserve any available seat in the cabin that I paid for, but a lot has changed since then.

  7. diver858

    June 22, 2019 at 6:49 am

    Most of us live in a free market economy, where the law of supply and demand rules. Premium seats are a limited, perishable commodity; those who wish to enjoy them should be expected to pay a small premium.

    Those of us who remain loyal to one carrier earn this privilege (free preferred seating), I for one do not want to lose it.

    What’s next: demanding free first class seats?

  8. DeltaFlyer123

    June 22, 2019 at 7:01 am

    The only problem with this initiative is that most of these preferred seats do not get bought for cash, but are selected by frequent flyers with higher status at no extra cost.

  9. frostbite

    June 22, 2019 at 7:14 am

    As an old fart with physical problems, I need more room. This airline greed is giving capitalism a bad name.

  10. wbl-mn-flyer

    June 22, 2019 at 7:49 am

    Enjoy your middle seat at the back of the plane, I guess.

  11. FlyingBoat

    June 22, 2019 at 8:59 am

    I have had this argument on other blogs.

    The seat selection fees and non-basic economy are anti family. Adults may choose to take the risk to not sit together and therefore get lower fees. A family with small children cannot do so. So small children, who take up less weight are subject to higher costs even though they take the middle seat!!

    I think it is fine to pay more for particular seats, or for aisle or possibly window, but paying hundreds of dollars more to be able to have your 3 year old sit in a middle seat is atrocious! So families with small children, if they want to be able to afford the trip, are subject to buying basic economy and then begging to be able to switch with someone when they board. On the blogs, the snobbish, self righteous, frequent fliers blame the families for this. And they think it is perfectly fine if the small child has the burden of paying a higher price by extortion and thereby in affect lowering the price the snob needs to pay.

    I have been on the other side of this, asking to give up my paid for aisle seat so a young family member could sit together. All this situation does is anger the passengers and disrupt the boarding procedure. Blame the airlines, not the families with small children!!

  12. NFH

    June 22, 2019 at 9:32 am

    I already boycott seat selection fees. I wish everyone else would do the same and stop supporting fees that are unrelated to cost.

  13. bcmckay99

    June 22, 2019 at 10:23 am

    I guess I’ve been quietly participating in your suggested boycott of paying extra for isle or window seats. I can certainly afford it but I refuse to reward that type of abusive behavior toward their customers. I can deal with some discomfort in a middle seat to make a point.

  14. tapbelle

    June 22, 2019 at 11:51 am

    As an occasional flyer, like several times/year, and someone who needs an aisle seat, I object but pay the extra fee but that only allows me the opportunity to choose a seat, not all seats. If I want a seat with tiny bit extra room, I need to pay an additional fee. Air travel is no longer a joy or comfortable unless you can pay double to triple the basic fare.

  15. PDXREX62

    June 22, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    I’ve been boycotting for quite a while now. I fly Southwest whenever possible.

  16. m44

    June 22, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    The only workable way is at the ballot box by electing pro-consumer (i.e. For the People) candidates. It means not voting for any republican.
    The republican wipe their faces with “we are for family”, they even did “familiy reunification” argument to USSR – but in the airplanes. at the border, in doctors office, in familly planing – they are reaping families apart for no good reason.
    For the money they prostitute the morals they apparently were not ebdoved by their Creator. Check their frontal lobes – they are atrophied – which explain their behaviours.

  17. bikesonaplane

    June 22, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    My take on this is that once you accept a paid upgrade they will charge you more the next time. Based on my observations with AA that seems to be the logic. It makes sense, if you _always_ pay for a better seat then why wouldn’t I slowly and slightly raise the cost next time until the pain threshold is met.

  18. hrsh37a

    June 22, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    With NDC offers looming, seat selection fees will be bundled with an airline’s offer, so in a few years, or even sooner, this discussion will be moot.

  19. PurdueFlyer

    June 22, 2019 at 3:35 pm

    Typical American consumerism. Champagne taste on a beer budget.

    If a hotel has a “resort fee” I’m forced to pay that fee regardless; its not like the fee only kicks in once I use the pool or the gym. An airline seat fee is an option if I want to pick a seat (or pay more for a better one). They aren’t forcing me to do anything or pay more if I don’t want to. I still get on the plane and arrive at the same time as everyone else.

    These arguments really need to die.

  20. ChelseaVegas

    June 22, 2019 at 4:33 pm

    Paying for seat selection is a relatively new phenomenon. From 1990 for twenty years I travelled to the Uk or USA mostly with BA. Never having to pay for seat selection. Now it’s just another way for airlines to make more money. It so popular it is difficult to get a seat selection by paying

  21. Flyermarin94941

    June 22, 2019 at 5:55 pm

    I wish it would work but knowing human nature it is very doubtful

  22. cfh

    June 23, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    I used to be against all these fees, but I do see the plus side. For those of us who book close to the departure date it makes getting an aisle seat more likely. Same with paying for extra leg room.

    I’m convinced that if an airline offered “stick class” (they beat you with a stick but you save $5) there are people who would take it.

    On the other hand, “resort fees” are just plain fraudulent advertising.

  23. southpac

    June 23, 2019 at 4:41 pm

    There’s a growing boycott in Australia right now against qantarse & it’s gay ceo who keeps telling everyone his personal views through qantarse. Australias best rugby player also a Christian minister posted on social media that gays will go to hell & so qantarse rugbys major sponsor had him sacked. Must have already cost qantarse tens of millions of dollars & australia in a recession so they need every passenger they can get. Many are calling for qantarse cro s sacking

  24. tuna_hp

    June 23, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    Seat reservation charges, along with all the other recent “unbundlings” of checked bags, decent legroom (now available in economy plus), are an annoyance, and to some degree anticompetitive. It makes it harder for consumers to make apples-apples decisions. But seat reservations in particular are something I think should be implemented anyway. They allow cabin seating to be allocated more efficiently. First of all, if you allow people to reserve seats on a first come first served basis with no cost, you are giving the best seat options to the people that booked earliest, which are the people that are paying the least for their tickets. It makes more sense to use pricing to hold some desirable seating in reserve, sp that you can sell premium seat selection at the highest price to the people who are already demonstrating their willingness to pay high prices for a last minute ticket. Secondly, imagine a 2-aisle-2 cabin, the first people to reserve their seats nearly all take aisle seats, and before you know it all the seat pairs already have at least 1 person sitting in them so that there are no more seats for couples traveling together. Effective seat pricing eliminates this issue.

  25. OZFLYER86

    June 23, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    yes the DFQ (don’t fly Qantas) campaign is gaining momentum in Australia. The myth that Qantas is any safer than other airlines is just that a myth, perpetuated by Qantas marketing.

  26. rjpjr

    June 23, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    YIKES! Where’s the moderator on this thread!

  27. rjpjr

    June 23, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    Now to seat selection. Airlines can go ahead and charge more for special (extra leg room) economy class seats. I don’t think they should be charging otherwise. As soon as I purchase a ticket, I should be able to select any normal seat as part of my fare. If I’m not sitting in an exit row, no fee. As for Premium Economy or especially Business class, never a fee – I’ve already paid a premium. Talking to you BA!

  28. miami888

    June 23, 2019 at 8:08 pm

    British Airways is THE WORST! I will never fly them again due to their “we reserve the right to change your seat at any time” policy. Full fare Club World MIA LHR…. changed without any notice. Never again.

  29. drphun

    June 24, 2019 at 5:12 am

    I don’t think it will work. Like spam email and telemarketing, a long as anyone, no matter how few, pays the extra fees, it makes sense to the airline to have them. It is a little extra gravy to the airline, without additional cost. With resort fees on the other hand, boycotting can make a difference. Hotel profitability is very sensitive to how full the hotel is so staying somewhere else without a resort fee can really hurt them if more than a few people boycott.

  30. trm2

    trm2

    June 24, 2019 at 6:03 am

    It isn’t like everyone in a certain cabin is paying the same amount for the ticket as it is. So what is a bit more to sit where you want? Without seat selection fees, the person that has to purchase a last-minute flight and pay a higher fare would be relegated to the least desirable seats on the plane.

  31. FlyGUYClipper

    June 24, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    Well! I did not know about all these dirty deeds by BA!. I will certainly not buy on them by choice. How dare they charge for seat assignments in Biz Class!. That’s they purpose of paying more, it’s supposed to be included. They are BIG Dummys!.

  32. AEROJ

    June 26, 2019 at 9:34 am

    Much as I dislike seat-selection fees (esp BA – yes, agreed they are the worst) my last few flights booked maybe a month or so in advance have meant that I’ve been able to bag those much sought-after direct-aisle-access seats (in their most dreadful 2x3x2 J class) that would otherwise have never been available. Unfortunately it’s the way of the world now, you want it, you gotta pay for it… there’s ‘Biz’ and then there’s >>>B*I*Z<<<. C'est la vie!

  33. Sydneyberlin

    June 27, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    Mhm. Just achieve status and this whole thing becomes the non-topic. And the cheapsters in the back- couldn’t care less about what happens behind that carpet (and prefer to rather not know, to be honest).

  34. chavala

    June 29, 2019 at 9:30 am

    I work hard to keep my elite status every year. If the rest of you boycott my airline for charging that just means more seat choices for me. Go for it, LOL

  35. drvannostren

    July 5, 2019 at 2:59 am

    Sadly, what I think is MORE likely, is bidding for seat selection as the OP suggests. Honestly, if I could bid $10 on a medium haul flight to nearly guarantee me an aisle seat, I probably would.

    Part of the reason I fly UA is because I can select a seat for free. But even they’ve gone the other way a little bit, taking some of the free seats and charging a stupid small charge for them despite them not being any different than any other seats.

    I take no issue with the airlines selling an E+ type product. Something between Y and PY, but airlines like SQ simply charging for selecting a seat does bother me. The fact that BA makes even J passengers pay seems insane to me. I recently bought a BA F flight and noticed both the nose seats were blocked for elites only, I get it, but I don’t like that either.

    I don’t pay for seat selection. My main motivation there obviously is saving money, but my thought process behind it, is I will always find an acceptable seat because I check-in earlier than everyone else. I’ll stay up late to make sure I check in at D-24, where others won’t. My other issue comes with the mainland Chinese carriers where it seems I can neither pay, nor select, nor check-in online…it’s a total crapshoot.

  36. corbetti

    July 7, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    “Just achieve status and this whole thing becomes the non-topic.”

    Exactly.

  37. FlyingNone

    July 7, 2019 at 7:20 pm

    This will never work – there are more passive, unaware or inexperienced travelers who will pay out of fear or compulsion so as not to lose the opportunity to sit with their family, friend, spouse etc. versus those of us who are angry that these fees should even exist. As well there are plenty of people for which money is no object and have no qualms about spending more.

  38. stanian

    July 9, 2019 at 3:43 am

    I personally don’t object to paying a small, reasonable fee for seat selection, especially long haul, but I do object to some airlines taking the mickey for normal economy class seats. When you are paying for a family it can quite a significant extra fee. For example my family of four flew BA from Manchester to Kuching Malaysia via LHR and KUL. Athough you can book seat 24hrs ahead for free any further ahead than this and they are extortionate BA wanted £27 to book a seat for the short hop from Manchester to Heathrow, which I didn’t pay and £41 for normal economy class seats from Heathrow to KL per person. Many other airlines you can bag extra legroom seats for much less. I think if people boycotted it, then the airlines would just have to get the money back from somewhere else. ie cutting standards or increasing fares. I do think that the cost of seat booking should be made clearer when making the actual booking.

  39. justpassinthru

    July 9, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    Sounds like different folks are talking about different fees – some airlines charge to select any seat, then others charge just to get a better seat (even in the same class), then others (i.e. have work arounds (you can pay to check in “first” on Southwest, that will enable you to select a better seat – this is still a fee for a better seat , just not called that). It is buyer beware…consumers have set the expectation they will buy the cheapest fare – often without calculating in the extra fees – if you care about them then do the research to understand them and include them in your choice of airline/route. They aren’t going anywhere….

  40. Bluecardholder

    July 13, 2019 at 1:56 am

    To be honest, if travelling on my own, I never book a seat in advance and take whats on offer at the time of check in. With some carriers, even Easyjet, you get allocated seats at booking so no issue there. Same with Charter flights, although they offer the “best” seats at a price, seats I think are allocated at time of booking. However, BA takes the biscuit, and since we don’t have status, I was rather miffed that to get the seats we wanted in CW so we didn’t have those dreadful middle seats facing backwards we used up some AVIOS points. However, for flights we have next year in J with Qantas and emirates we have already got our seats booked and we had a choice – thats the way to treat your customers.

  41. cplunk

    July 13, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    I’ve never paid an extra fee for seat selection, have always received this from mileage plan status.
    So, YES, I would very much like you all to boycott this, and make those seats MORE available to those of us with status in mileage plans. Because we don’t get the free upgrades and exit row seats when all the rest of you are paying for these seats!!!
    (Apparently our corporate travel dept. doesn’t do basic economy, and even before flying enough to gain “status”, was still able to choose aisle row seats near the front, I know from checking prices independently there are always better deal than what’s listed on corporate travel site, but I think company is more concerned about being able to refund or reuse tickets than getting best possible rate.)
    (and they reimburse luggage fees, so I always checked my bag. Of course with mileage plan status, that’s free now also).

  42. ranles

    July 14, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    When your corporation is paying the bill, then it is a better seat that costs you nothing. In fact, you put it on a Point bearing CC and get more points because of the cost. If your are older like me…did you stay over a Saturday night…get your corp. a lower fee, and cost you an upgrade cert use, more points on your cc, etc? Not likely. The offset was getting points at a hotel if you did the Saturday (occasionally I did that) to hit a level with the hotel. Playing points and status is a great game. As was said before, some get a free seat because of their status.

    Now I am retired, and long enough to loose all status, I am more interested in costs. I don’t want to pay for a specific seat, BUT my wife of 45 years is not too keen on sitting in different parts of the plane! So I too, usually have to pay something.

    Infrequent flyers do not even know about seat selection, seat guru, and added fees. Just give them the cheapest price.

    People that pay for high end food delivery, starbucks coffee, 3 dollar water (don’t drink from the tap and certainly not the hose!), use premium fuel for a car that does not need it, drive a $70000 truck back and forth to work, pay for a lousy rated $5000 refrig., etc are not worried about a bit more to pick there seat. The “rich” fall in this category too.

    Then there is the issue of size. Tall must pay extra for there legs. Wide cannot buy 2 cheap seats, they must buy a business or first seat to accommodate there width, or impose there body in coach on their neighbors.

    There are many more categories, but I don’t see a boycott working! Not with the growing traveling public in the USA and other countries. Not with this economy.

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