Airline industry analyst Terry Trippler predicts we’ll see surcharges for assigned seats and aisle seats by the end of the year. Airlines have already started charging for “meals” that make the mediocre, overpriced airport fare seem like a good deal. (Can you tell that I fly too much?) American Eagle is piloting a program to charge for soda. Oops, no pun intended.
Trippler makes an interesting point, and it’s worth noting that airlines, for all their fancy price optimization, do not really optimize other than by schedule and cabin. But within the cabin, fliers assign different values to different seats. How much more is a fully reclining, exit row seat with a power outlet compared to a middle seat in the back of the plane with no power outlet? The difference is more than $0 for most of the people who end up sitting in the exit row seat. However, that person probably paid a lot more for the seat in the first place.
Introducing seating surcharges would cause substantial changes in pricing policies, systems, and customer perception. Perhaps a better way to monetize the value of certain seats would be to hold them for certain fare classes (the airlines already reserve some seats for premium customers and frequent fliers). This would reduce the visibility of the price increase on certain seats, and could be adjusted more easily to accommodate varying load factors on different flights.