Air Travel: Buying Extra Legroom
If you don't want to pay the exorbitant price for a first-class ticket, your only chance to avoid the bone-crunching crowding of the airlines' coach/economy cabins is to wangle a coach seat with extra legroom. Rather than dole out those choice seats first come, first served, more and more airlines have taken to selling access to them.
Typically, you find extra legroom in two sorts of seats: in "exit rows," opposite emergency exits, and "bulkhead rows" at the front of a cabin section with no other seats in front of you. The extra space can be as much as seven or eight inches, but it is often less, and often the real benefit of bulkhead seats is that there's nobody in front of you to lean back into your face. In either case, even minimal extra room is welcome in a cattle car cabin, especially if -- like me -- you aren't quite as spry as when you started flying.
Continental is the latest convert to selling extra-room, exit row and bulkhead seats. It didn't announce prices, instead saying the price would depend on the route, market conditions, and, of course, ticket price and frequent flyer status.
Other lines have been selling those seats for some time. The following charges apply to ordinary mortals flying on cheap tickets; elite frequent flyers and travelers on high-priced tickets can usually access these seats without paying extra.
-- Frontier is installing several rows of extra-legroom seats in its A319s and E190s, which you can buy and reserve starting when you check in, as early as 24 hours before departure, for
-- JetBlue has installed several rows of extra-legroom seats in its A320s and one row of its E190s, which you can buy and reserve at the time of original booking. The price ranges from
-- Spirit charges extra for all advance seat assignments:
-- Sun Country charges
-- United has installed extra-legroom "Economy Plus" in all mainline aircraft. You can buy eligibility by the trip or by the year, but actual seat assignments are made at departure, subject to availability, and you may not actually get into the "Plus" section -- a feature that severely degrades the attractiveness of the deal.
-- Virgin America calls its exit-row seats "premium economy," and charges a fortune for the extra legroom plus a bunch of other less valuable features. It's a bummer.
Unfortunately, non-elite frequent flyers on cheap tickets can actually guarantee themselves an escape from the cattle car on
Quite a few lines based outside
Keep in mind that these extra-legroom seats are still as shoulder-rubbing narrow as other coach seats. And no domestic line offers true premium economy with wider seats. Sad.
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