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American to Charge for Easy On/Off Planes

American announced a new addition to its Your Choice collection of for-purchase conveniences. Called Express Seats, the new package combines American’s Group One boarding perk ($10) and adds to it a seat toward the front of coach, which allows for a quick and easy exit when the plane lands. Introductory prices for the perk start at $19 per flight and increase based on mileage. The $19 price, for example, is for a flight between St. Louis and Chicago. Flying between Chicago and Honolulu would set you back $39.

My first thought when I read about this new option was: That is the stupidest fee ever. So I took a deep breath, thought about it a little, calmed down, and yes: I guess it’s not the stupidest fee ever, but it’s close. Let me explain.

First, there’s no denying that boarding and exiting first is nice. Of course it is. You avoid the irritation of waiting while your fellow passenger wrestle with carry-ons or search for their seat. I get that.

What I don’t get is American’s pricing. $10 for priority boarding seems reasonable. Doubling that for a front-of-coach seat on a 45-minute flight? That’s pushing it. Charging $39 on any flight? Give me a break.

Think about how much time actually passes between the first passenger exiting the plane and the last. While it may feel like an eternity, in reality it takes about five to seven minutes to empty a plane once the exit door is open. Since Express Seats is essentially American’s $10 Group One boarding perk plus priority departure, the added cost of Express Seats only buys the average traveler five to seven minutes. Is five to seven minutes worth paying an additional $20 or $30 on top of the $10 priority boarding fee?  That’s up to the individual consumer, but I think it’s absurd.

That said, if you want to purchase Express Seats, you must do so at the airline’s airport kiosks between 24 hours and 50 minutes before your flight. If you’re already checked in for your flight, you’ll simply get a new boarding pass. Otherwise, passengers checking in at the airport can purchase Express Seats during that process. The perk may not be available on all flights, and American says Express Seats will not affect availability of Preferred Seats for elite frequent fliers or disabled customers, who are often seated in the bulkhead row.

Readers, what do you think? Am I being too harsh? Am I missing the point? Would you pay $20 to $40 to be among the first on and off the plane?

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