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Want to Sit With Your Family on an Airplane? That'll Be $25, Please

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Back in February, we took note Florida-based carrier Spirit Airlines (SAVE), who saw themselves as a “poster child for extra fees.” CEO Ben Baldanza claimed to be proud of his company’s high fees and to view them as an issue of consumer choice.

Of course, lately, Spirit’s fees have gone from irritating to controversial.

First, the company refused to refund a dying veteran’s airfare, as they do not give refunds. After a week’s worth of protest, Baldanza agreed to pay for the man’s ticket himself, and gave a $5000 donation to the Wounded Warriors charity.
In another strong PR move, the company announced the prospect of $200 fees round-trip for a single carry-on bag.
However, far from distancing themselves from Spirit’s fee-obsessed business model, many air carriers are imitating it. Right now, travelers without frequent flyer status could be asked to pay as much as $25 to avoid getting a middle seat.
According to The Week, passengers on American Airlines (AMR), Delta (DAL), Frontier (FRNT), and US Airways (LCC) can all pay extra to guarantee a window or aisle seat. Spirit passengers pay between $5 and $15 for any seat assignment.
Customers can still get a window or aisle seat without paying in advance, but their chances are lower. This makes things especially difficult for families traveling together, who have to pay in advance to make sure they share a row.
Those looking to get a window or aisle seat without paying can wait until frequent fliers are bumped up to first class but they may wind up with nothing. The frequent fliers, by the way, have a vastly larger number of seats open to them when they purchase tickets. In general, airlines reserve a good number of seats for their regular customers.
Obviously, consumers are upset. The trouble is, there’s not a huge amount they can do as higher fees become the norm among airlines. On their end, airlines are looking to increase their bottom lines in the face of rising fuel costs and other expenses.
So what’s the solution? Drive. Or at least plan ahead.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.